Last night Virginia governor Bob McDonnell delivered the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address. It was the third time in five years that a Virginian delivered the response to a State of the Union--clearly Virginia is an electoral battleground! You can read a transcript of McDonnell's speech here, in case Obama put you to sleep before McDonnell appeared on television.
In 2007, the newly elected Democratic senator from Virginia, onetime WEEKLY STANDARD contributor James Webb, responded to President Bush. Webb's speech was important both in its subject matter and tone. Webb focused intently on Bush's failure to prosecute the war in Iraq effectively and the growing gap between the economy's top-earners and everyone else. Perhaps most important, he spoke as a former Republican, someone who was not a bleeding-heart liberal but who just couldn't stand President Bush any longer.
Most of these responses are as fleeting and meaningless as the State of the Union itself. But Webb's speech was different--looking back, one can see how it anticipated the themes Democrats would run on in 2008. The same cannot be said for Tim Kaine, who gave the response in 2006, or Kathleen Sebelius, who delivered it in 2008.
McDonnell's speech was more Webb than Kaine. In his campaign against Creigh Deeds last year, McDonnell wrote the GOP playbook that Scott Brown would use to great success in the Massachusetts special election: positive, non-confrontational, aimed at independents and focused on the economy and opposition to the national Democratic agenda. McDonnell continued along those lines in his speech yesterday, while also incorporating Scott Brown's critique of Obama's handling of terrorist suspects and detainees. A liberal friend of mine even said he enjoyed some of McDonnell's lines on education.
True, McDonnell spoke in broad generalities. He may have seemed slightly uncomfortable with the TelePrompTer (but then, no one can match the president's skill in this particular department). Even so, this was a far, far cry from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's clunker of a speech in 2009.
McDonnell was calm, pleasant, upbeat, and exuded confidence in the American people while also criticizing the Obama agenda. Most important: He was brief. And after a year of Obama speechifying, with three more years to go (at least), brevity is an attribute the public may come to appreciate greatly.