I had been excited about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' official Democratic rejoinder, but her speech left me cold. It relied on feel-good platitudes over any real, specific critique of President Bush. An entire passage on S-CHIP failed to mention that Bush had vetoed the legislation, denying 10 million children health care. Is there any easier shot to take? Is there any more important domestic issue in America today? And on the war, Sebelius simply did not say it should end....This rhetoric felt like a time machine back to 2004. Don't we now know enough and aren't we tough enough to critique the surge happy-talk?Well, let's face it: these things usually suck. It's just the nature of the medium: one person, stuck all alone in a cramped room, droning on to the camera. After the pomp and applause and excitement of even a routine State of the Union address, it's almost impossible for the response to be anything but soporific.
But there was even more to it this time. Unless I miss my guess, Sebelius was trying to sound like Barack Obama, talking about unity, bipartisanship, ending the rancor in DC, etc. But guess what? Unless you've got the gift for it, that kind of stuff just sounds weak and mushy. The format and timing of the rebuttal puts the speaker at a disadvantage regardless, but there's no need to make it worse by attempting a triple axel and flubbing it. Obama has the rare talent of making that kind of rhetoric sound soaring, but lesser souls should know their limits and stick to standard speechifying.