Being asked to give the response to the State of the Union address is the political equivalent of Al Neri inviting Fredo Corleone to join him in a fishing boat on a quiet, remote lake. More than one Budding Career on the national stage has arrived stillborn during SOTU responses, with Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio being prominent examples. Nobody watches it, nobody talks about it unless you fuck up or look like a death row prisoner giving his last interview (Rubio), and its content is usually little more than a short, petulant tantrum about whatever the President just said. It is the worst job in American politics.
Terrible SOTU responses are the norm; the speaker inevitably looks like he or she is being forced to do it at gunpoint. There is no audience, just one person in an empty room in front of what looks like the old Masterpiece Theatre library backdrop. It combines the juvenile trash talking of a pro wrestling promo with the frightening sterility of a terrorist beheading video. I cannot imagine an environment designed more completely to ensure failure. I haven't seen every SOTU response ever, but I do know for certain that I have never seen a good one. Most of them would have to improve considerably to qualify as Terrible.
Every year I think it can't get any worse or more ridiculous and almost every year I am wrong. On Tuesday evening we were subjected to Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who has been in the Senate for all of two weeks, giving a speech that made Jindal's "Kenneth the Page" impression look like an FDR Inaugural. It is clear why Republicans are so over-the-top patriotic, as in any other country someone like Ernst would be a minor bureaucrat at best, pushing papers around at the DMV or night-managing a KFC. In the United States she gets to be a Senator. What a country.
This is a speech written by idiots for even bigger idiots, delivered by a suit so empty that she looks totally unaware of how much she is embarrassing herself. The text is so ludicrous and fake-rustic that she is to be commended for keeping a straight face throughout, and the only question anyone could have at the end is, "Why is she talking to me like I'm four?"
The only logical explanation for this kind of performance art is that the political class is engaged in a concerted effort to make Americans cynical enough to stop paying attention to politics altogether. It's working.