If there's anything that State of the Union night is never short on, it's ceremony, tradition, and wordiness. My god, so many words. And in our modern times, the longwinded nature of the night has been taken to bold new heights. A simple speech by the President isn't all you get — you get the opposing party's response, too. And now, with the GOP increasingly frayed into small, self-interested cliques, not even one response is enough. Case in point: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul responded to the State of the Union address Tuesday night, despite not having been his party's selection to do the honor.
The official GOP response to President Obama's address has been handed to Iowa freshman Senator Joni Ernst, who stormed her way into Congress in the 2014 midterms on the strength of her hard-right politics, a compelling personal history, and a rather underwhelming campaign by her opponent, Bruce Braley. She's every bit the right-wing firebrand the Republicans might hope to deliver this kind of a speech, assuming they want to strike a fighting posture. And with the GOP's difficulties appealing to women voters the decision to put a fresh-faced female Senator front-and-center is an understandable one.
But that isn't stopping Paul from giving his two cents, quite the contrary. Sure, he didn't get the primetime venue — he's relegated to streaming on his YouTube channel — but he spoke out all the same. It makes sense, considering he's a man with possible presidential aspirations. He obviously didn't want to let this opportunity slide past, with the Obama era now entering its fourth quarter.
Paul opened as he meant to go on...
Good evening, I wish I had better news for you, but all is not well for America. America is adrift. Something is clearly wrong. America needs many things, but what America desperately needs is new leadership.
The world of State of the Union rebuttals is getting a little crowded. In addition to Ernst helming the official response, and Paul taking to the internet to blast the President's vision, Florida Rep. Curt Clawson is delivering the Tea Party response, further emphasizing the GOP's internal divides — he follows in the footsteps of former Rep. Michelle Bachmann, among others.
Paul, for his part, did exactly what you'd expect of a State of the Union rebuttal — he made some broadsides not just against Obama's policies, but against the political philosophies of the man himself. It's a tactic of necessity, to some extent — advance transcripts of the State of the Union address coming out late enough to make precise, detailed criticisms a little tricky. You can't rebuke what you haven't yet heard, after all. As such, these responses tend to be a reflection of the speaker's political brand, and a condemnation of the President's governing philosophy — or at least, in this case, how Paul wants everyone to interpret it.
While you can't fault Paul for wanting to get in on the act, you have to wonder how much further this will go. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, the tradition of the State of the Union response dates back to the 1960s, but back then, limited technology meant only the party's pick could really get any oxygen. While there's nothing inherently wrong with personal YouTube responses, the post-address analysis scene is getting a little tight. And politicians love to emulate ideas that succeed — if Paul gets a positive reaction out of this, could a 30-minute Louie Gohmert webcam diatribe be that far behind?
Image: Getty Images, Rand Paul/YouTube