From Clinton to Rodgers – A History of Mistrust

When I saw the State of the Union, one thing bothered me – the response.  The state of the union seemed somewhat standard, providing ample specifics, and a positive overarching message.  I didn’t understand the need for a rebuttal of the president of the United States.  After all, the point of our democracy is that he is everybody’s president, not just the president of his constituents.  It seemed to show resistance to the mere idea of unity.

I quickly found out how these responses began – in 1966, the republican party was given an opportunity by television networks to have a designated slot for a response.  They accepted, and his has been standard ever since.  I understand that tension will show itself – On twitter Obama was called a “socialistic dictator” by Randy Weber, among other things.  However, the State of the Union speech is not a debate.  It was designed as an annual update from the president to his Congress, and naturally it has evolved into an update to the entire nation.  The response has attempted to shape it into an opportunity to perpetuate disagreement, and prevent any trust in the president.

I found the ’85 televised democratic response to Reagan in a discussion format. While it had  more specifics than Rodgers’ response, the themes were the same.  There were accusations about the debt, taxes and standard topics, all intending to distract from any trust in the president.  There were not always specific assaults on his policies, just an encouragement of mistrust.  Bill Clinton held up a chart of the national debt by year, blaming the debt on Reagan and avoiding a cooperative tone.  This singular-blame placement reminded me of Rodgers’ speech, where she said that the president “made more promises that sound good but won’t actually solve the problems facing Americans.”

In a time with ever-increasing partisan gridlock, the response does little to help.  It takes away from an emphasis on cooperation and compromise and places focus on our differences.  Political dissidence should not be something we strive for, but instead something we try to mitigate, in the process of increasing cooperation.  We should all be able to come together behind one president, not an assortment of partisan darlings that tell us what we want to hear.


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