(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama put Republicans in something of a box Tuesday night. He oozed optimism, telling Americans in the last moments of his speech that, “From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.”
On the other hand, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who gave the Republican response and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who delivered what was billed as the Tea Party rebuttal, both focused on the negative -- crushing deficit, the debt crisis, the ballooning size of government.
“No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country,” Ryan said, minutes after Obama concluded his remarks in the House of Representatives. “Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent -- and I know many of you feel the same way.”
While Congress doesn’t need to sell “hope” and “optimism” the next president does. Obama knows that.
The president also made sure that there was something for everyone in the speech. He talked about gays serving openly in the military while also calling on colleges and universities to allow ROTC back on their campuses. He urged greater investments in infrastructure, but also a lower corporate tax rate. He said we should get rid of the “bookkeeping burden” in health care law, but refused to compromise on allowing insurance companies to go back to denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
Both Republican responses offered many of the same themes -- just with slightly different flavors -- but the message was diluted somewhat by the theatrics of the dueling broadcasts.
“President Obama made promises, just like the ones we heard him make this evening,” Bachmann said, “yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing.”
While the Bachmann and Ryan responses may have, once again, exposed the fissure between the Republican Party and the Tea Party, they also pointed to a reality of modern politics: nearly every member of Congress now ends up delivering their own reaction to the State of the Union, whether televised, in a written statement, in a YouTube video or on Twitter.
A case-in-point was Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who emerged as the president’s sharpest Twitter critic Tuesday night. “Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism,” he tweeted at one point during Obama’s speech.
Finally, the new bipartisan seating chart seemed to get good reviews from both Democrats and Republicans. “It was a much different feeling,” in the chamber Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” Wednesday. McCain said he hopes it will stick.
“I think that there’s a different atmosphere here,” he said. “With every tragedy comes something good and obviously the tragedy of Tucson and Gabrielle Giffords has brought about a certain change in the atmosphere.”
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