Saturday February 16, 2013

I see by the headline that no less an authority on the subject than Michael Reagan has pronounced President Obama’s recent State of the Union address "stupid." Mr. Reagan presumably makes a lucrative living by unashamedly linking his father’s name to rants designed to stir up the simmering resentments harbored by the Honey Boo-Boo crowd. It was a gutsy word to use, but perhaps it came more easily because it was the exact adjective that one of the GOP’s hopes for the future, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, used to describe the party that both he and Mr. Reagan still admire so much.

Mr. Reagan has never been able to reach the top tier of superlative right-wing flimflam artists like Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage. Mr. Jindal’s future, however, looks considerably brighter. The path that the GOP seems to have embarked upon after the disgustingly rich white guy disappointment shoves prominent members of minority groups front and center to demonstrate that Republican arms are wide open to any and all registered voters. Remember Michael Steele, their hip-hop national chairman?

Mr. Jindal’s shining star has been somewhat eclipsed by another bright light in the party, this one hailing from (God help us all) Florida, the home state for oranges, spring breaks, and long waits on Election Day. The GOP counted upon Marco Rubio to rebuke the president’s ludicrous notions that we all have to pull together once in a while, that gun violence is out of control, that our environment is being decimated, that people need a realistic minimum wage, and that austerity (a word that has found a place in conservative lexicon equal to that of Graceland amongst Elvis fans) isn’t the way out of the economic crisis.

Mr. Rubio never tires of casting himself as the hero of his own rags to riches story, complete with immigrant parents who wanted something better for their kids and lacking only the scene where he holds up a plate and asks with big, sad eyes, "Please, sir. Can I have some more?"

But Marco Rubio obviously wants more. A lot more.

The rebuttal speech was an odd spectacle, played out as if Rubio was the guilty party at the end of a Perry Mason show. He lives, we are told between dabs at sweat and grasps for water, in a working-class neighborhood where salt-of-the-earth folks get up every morning and go to work (hence the working-class neighborhood denotation). These people don’t need more government, they need less because, despite the mountainous evidence to the contrary since Michael’s dad developed a fondness for deregulation that rivaled his wearying crush on Nancy, big governments are really like those weights that gangsters tie around their victims before they are dumped into the ocean.

To borrow a line from Tennessee Williams, the American people should learn to depend on the kindness of the capitalist spirit, evidenced by examples as diverse and encouraging as Wall Street banks’ concern for their clients’ best interests and Boeing’s advance awareness that batteries in their new Dreamliner jet tended toĆ what’s the word hereĆ smolder. What do we need government to tell us that for? One of the planes would have crashed soon enough.

Mr. Rubio, before he became the star that lights the way, was a lawyer whose income expanded proportionately with his ascension in Florida politics. When he was elected speaker of the House, he spent nearly half a million dollars renovating his office. This is clearly a Republican’s notion of austerity -- a worthy endeavor that everyone else should abide by and/or suffer from and how in hell do you spend $500,000 on an office!

The working-class house in Florida, by the way, is on the market for a cool $675,000. Marco has his eye on cushier neighborhoods, preferably gated to keep immigrants out.

I wasn’t completely convinced that Obama’s speech could be so easily dismissed as stupid, even by someone with Mr. Reagan’s historical expertise. As a matter of fact, what I saw on Feb. 12 was the man I was hoping to see four years ago. The president seems to have cast off his reelection shackles and decided that being a nice guy in the poisonously money-driven Washington environment is as fruitless as the prospect of Lindsay Lohan’s complete rehabilitation.

Obama has always been a mesmerizing speaker. The problem has often been that the performance does not measure up to the rhetoric. Whether it is true or not, he constantly gives the impression that he too easily concedes important ground to the vagaries of politics. Backing off comes too easily to him for the sake of compromise to people who have only the vaguest notion that compromise involves the other guy getting something he wants, too. He disavowed the single payer system faster than Superman could get to the scene of a crime.

Only time will tell, but it was certainly a more in-your-face guy talking the other night. The end result was encouraging and the stale, fact-deficient, and shamelessly hypocritical rebuttal offered by Mr. Rubio only indicated that the Grand Old Party is much more concerned with cosmetic rather than substantive changes.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist and reviewer.