It must really suck to be Nancy Pelosi these days. Having just decided the other day to stop using the word “stimulus” (she’s a quick study, fer sure), Pelosi now has her knickers in a bunch because congressional Republicans have decided not to have the usual post-presidential speech rebuttal Thursday night. Pelosi thinks this is a sign of disrespect to the president. “The Republicans’ refusal to respond to the president’s proposal on jobs is not only disrespectful to him, but to the American people,” Pelosi said.
She’s actually right for a change (but more akin to a stopped clock than a person of real insight), though I think Republicans also know that most viewers will want to get on to more important things, like the NFL opener.
The now traditional “response” speech from the other party is a relatively recent invention. It started in the Reagan years, when the news media was only too happy to offer broadcast time to a Democratic Party that was desperate in the face of Reagan’s TV skill to do something—anything—to blunt his appeals. The “response” speech was a transparent attempt to attack Reagan, as everyone understood at the time. These response speeches are always written in advance, and are never an attempt to make a genuine engagement with what the president says.
So Pelosi is right that it is very telling that Republicans think the speech will sink so badly of its own weight that the best response is no response. And in complaining she probably is giving away her own worry that the Republicans are probably right.
I’m also wondering if there might there be any street theater at this speech, like Joe Wilson’s famous “you lie!” outburst. In the House of Commons in Britain, if a Prime Minister is in deep trouble, one sure sign that he (or she, we can genuinely say over there) is about to go is when you can audibly make out House members muttering, or openly saying, “resign!” I’m almost willing to give odds on a Tea Party member blurting this out in response to an Obama howler. Hope and change!