Pelosi and Reid Should Allow Jim Webb to Address the Full Joint Session in His Democratic Response Next Week...
I don't know how long the tradition of an Opposition Party "Response" to the President's State of the Union address has been going on. But for as long as I can recall, it has been a drab, embarrassing, cringe-worthy effort by whichever party found itself unlucky enough to not be in the White House.
Over the last six years, the Bush Administration has run rough-shod over their co-equal Congressional partners, stealing extraordinary power for themselves at every turn with the short-sighted blessings of their Republican chums in the House and Senate as an all-but-castrated Democratic party stood quietly by in the background for the most part.
This year, the Dems have smartly tapped freshman Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) to deliver the Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union Address. No simpering softee he, Webb has already shown he has the stones to look Bush straight in the eye and deliver as good as he gets in the face of a classic Dubya bully-boy alpha-dog snarl.
But no matter how much clout, moral authority or gigantic balls the former Reagan Naval Secretary and proud father of a son still serving in Iraq may be, the conventional stagecraft of the SOTU and its Democratic/Republican Response simply stacks the cards insurmountably against the opposition party and -- as is likely again this year -- only serves to reinforce a perceived, if undeserved, imbalance between the two parties and the two branches of Government.
Just moments after the predictable, but rousing reception given to any President during a SOTU address -- featuring long and loud applause break after applause break and the undeniable excitement of a live speech delivered on live television to a packed and contentious house -- there is no way that a one-camera opposition party Response delivered in an all but empty room turned TV studio can ever hope to measure up to the pomp and circumstance of the President's address. That fact would be true even if Superman was selected to deliver the opposition party Response.
It's time to make a change.
And it's time for the Dems to take back just some of the White House's self-proclaimed empirical majesty in the bargain.
With the Dems newly in control of both houses of Congress and with a healthy majority of the country now clearly backing them as the best hope for America's future on virtually all fronts, and with a courageous man who knows how to kill before a live crowd, its time they push back and reclaim some of their rightful Constitutional power. Public perception being as integral to that power as almost anything else.
Controlling both the House and the Senate, the Dems can make the rules for both chambers in how the place is to be run as I understand it.
To that end, unless there is something more than merely "tradition" which I'm unaware of and which keeps them from doing so, the Dems ought to give Webb the same platform of the full joint session of Congress to deliver their party's Response to the SOTU.
Webb should deliver his address to that same jam-packed and receptive chamber on the floor of Congress as the President was granted...and which the opposition party, proudly owning majorities in both chambers of the co-equal branch of Government, now deserve to lay out their vision for the country.
As President of the Senate, Dick Cheney, of course, should be invited to keep his seat during the address behind the podium and next to the Speaker of the House. It'll be up to him if he wishes to show the appropriate respect and stay for the speech and join in for the polite applause at appropriate moments, or if he chooses to shamefully abandon his post and leave the on-camera seat empty behind Webb as he gives his address to the same pomp, circumstance and applause breaks as afforded to his co-equal Executive Branch representative just moments earlier.
For the first time in its history, the Opposition Response to the SOTU can be more than merely an embarrassing, limp, pro forma, predictable "hey, don't forget about us!" rejoinder which the TV Networks begrudgingly carry while most viewers have already changed the channel or moved on to other things. Instead, the Response can truly carry the message -- from a level playing field -- of how the Democrats envision the brave new world and their plans bettering the state of our union.
I believe all it would take is a decision by Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid to keep the joint session open after Bush's address, and for the floor to then be given to Webb to deliver the party's response to all in attendance. I hope that both will consider doing so.
The Democratic party was placed into power last November to take back America. Webb is the perfect representation of that reclamation of power. The State of the Union address gives the Dems, via Webb's response, the perfect moment to make their intentions crystal clear to the nation. But they need to give Webb the same level playing field they've graciously granted to Bush.
In doing so, the Dems may finally show what they stand for -- and that they will no longer be cowed -- instead of merely and meekly serving as bit players and extras in background support for a grand show which George W. Bush no longer deserves.
The battle for the balance of power in this country was long ago turned into a battle measured by which party is perceived by the country as "the toughest guy." The Dems finally have such a tough guy in Jim Webb. And he's ready to go. The way the Dems choose to use the golden opportunity before them will likely say as much about their ability to lead in a dangerous, threatening world as anything else. Will they now have the cajones to finally stand up to the GOP bully as embodied by George W. Bush to reclaim their equal time so long deserved? Or at least as afforded to them by the Constitution? We'll soon find out.
Brad Friedman is Creator and Editor-in-Chief of The BRAD BLOG.