OK, I fully admit that headline was too tempting for me to pass up. But I have to say, I'm not really all that interested in Senator Marco Rubio's dry mouth or the swig of bottled water he took to quench it. I leave that for others who are better equipped to offer up the proper response. Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart, in other words.
What struck me about Rubio's response to President Obama's "State Of The Union" speech was the whining he stuck into the middle of it. Now, I've become accustomed to the Republican jiu-jitsu trick of turning a powerful Democratic Party weapon against them by pre-emptively playing the "victim card," but Rubio's attempt at doing so last night was just laughable. Because -- both before and after he made the attempt -- Rubio was guilty of doing exactly what he was complaining about those mean Democrats doing to the poor put-upon Republicans.
This should have been obvious to all but the seriously irony-impaired. From the transcript of Rubio's remarks, here's his big complaint:
There are valid reasons to be concerned about the President's plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the President's agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.
When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can't control the weather -- he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.
When we suggest we strengthen our safety net programs by giving states more flexibility to manage them -- he accuses us of wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves.
And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts -- cuts that were his idea in the first place.
But his favorite attack of all is that those who don't agree with him -- they only care about rich people.
According to Rubio, Democrats (those meanies!) love to falsely attack the motives of the pure-hearted Republicans. Now, while the rest of Rubio's speech is ripe territory for pointing out falsehoods, prevarications, obfuscations, and hilariously outrageous spin, let's just concentrate on the one line: "[the president] and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking [Republicans'] motives."
This excerpt from Rubio's speech occurred only six paragraphs after he said the following:
Presidents in both parties -- from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan -- have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.
But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn't tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.
Got that? President Obama "believes" that "our free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems." If that isn't a "false attack" on Obama's "motives," I don't know what is.
Rubio can apparently read Obama's mind. I know this because if Obama had ever said anything along the lines of "America's free enterprise economy is the root cause of all our problems!" I believe I would have heard about it. Many, many times, in fact. From Fox News, at the very least. In fact, such a clip would have been at the heart of the last presidential campaign. But it wasn't. Know why? Because he never said it. But even though he never said it, he still "believes" it -- which Marco Rubio was kind enough to share with us all last night. You see, Rubio can accurately divine what motivates the president in his whole agenda. And Rubio sees absolutely nothing wrong with attacking such motivation -- even though it is false.
Not content with falsely slamming Obama's motives before he began to whine, Rubio also returned to the subject again and again in the rest of his speech:
But if we can get the economy to grow at just four percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost four trillion dollars over the next decade.
Tax increases can't do this. Raising taxes won't create private sector jobs. And there's no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost four trillion dollars. That's why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy.
Rubio has gone beyond knowing what the president "believes" and has moved on to what his "obsessions" are. Once again, Rubio feels quite comfortable attacking President Obama's motives, in quite personal fashion.
Rubio further accuses the president with "playing politics with Medicare" and laying out "false choices."
To be scrupulously fair, Rubio did spend much of his speech taking on the policy proposals and political agenda of the president -- attacking the ideas, and attempting to differentiate the Republican counter-ideas and counter-proposals. He didn't do a very good job of this, because Republicans right now are much more interested in their rebranding efforts than they are about coming up with any actual new ideas. This lipstick-on-a-pig effort is supposed to put a kinder, gentler face on traditional Republican orthodoxy, and Rubio is seen as one of the people to do just that (at least he's not, like Bobby Jindal, out there calling the Republicans the "stupid party").
But lipstick or not, it's still a pig. There are too many examples in Rubio's speech to even accurately count, but here's just one, to show the problem the Republican Party faces in their rebranding efforts:
When I finished school, I owed over 100,000 dollars in student loans, a debt I paid off just a few months ago. Today, many graduates face massive student debt. We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they're taking out.
That's a wonderful thought, isn't it? Except for the fact that the Republican Party was vehemently against two things which have improved the situation already. The first was to get rid of the middleman and loan students money directly -- which cut the amount they'll have to repay and denied the banks money for doing essentially nothing. The second was to create a federal agency which has as part of its core mission the power to force "more information" on loans -- not just for students but for all consumers borrowing money. Both ideas were heavily fought against by Republicans (they are, in fact, still fighting the whole concept of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). Spin, meet reality (to put it another way). So it's a little hard to take them seriously now.
There were dozens of such attempts at spinning black into white and up into down. Anyone who knows the history of what Republicans have fought for and against -- even in the past few years -- knows full well how laughable Rubio's spin truly was.
But, for me, the one thing that stood out more than anything else was the hypocrisy of "playing the victim card" on those mean, mean Democrats who "falsely attack" Republicans on their motives -- while heaping up a big helping of such attacks on President Obama in the same speech. If you want to whine about how your opponent is attacking your motives, it might behoove you to refrain from suggesting that the President of the United States, deep down in his heart of hearts, believes the free market is evil and the cause of all of America's problems.
Who knows? Maybe if you had resisted the Republican knee-jerk urge to do so, the words wouldn't have stuck in your throat, Senator Rubio.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant