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February 15, 2013

Style trumped substance in SOU

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The Daily Star

---- — If we needed any more proof that Washington politics — in cahoots with fun-seeking social media and vapid mainstream media coverage — is far more about style than substance, Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech and the Republican rebuttal provided it in great profusion.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s GOP response has been receiving a ridiculous amount of attention — much of it from delighted late-night comics — but not for any reason that might have to do with what he actually said.

It’s often noted that following any president’s State of the Union address is one of the most difficult tasks any politician can take on, given that the president speaks in the House of Representatives chamber to rapturous applause — mostly from his own party — and the subsequent response is given by a lone person just talking to a camera.

Rubio’s speech was pretty much standard Republican fare — lower taxes, smaller government, and attack anything Obama might support. But that’s not what the Florida senator’s chat will be remembered for.

Nope. It will be remembered because Rubio paused during his 14-and-a-half-minute talk to get a drink of water. OK, it didn’t help that he had nervously touched his face a couple of times to remove some perspiration, and it was unfortunate that he had kind of a deer-in-the-headlights look when he moved far to his left to take a quick swig from a plastic bottle, but c’mon.

The guy was thirsty. What’s so wrong with that? And who wouldn’t look a little nervous talking to millions of people?

Well, actually, Obama, but he’s been president for four years, and he’s gotten pretty good at that sort of thing.

The Washington Post actually interviewed a body language expert named Tonya Reiman to evaluate Obama.

“His job was to convince Congress that, in coming together, everybody wins,” Reiman said. “And he did. He came across as warm and convincing. He needed to be dominant and forceful without being aggressive.”

As for what the president might actually have said, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was unimpressed, but still gave kudos to Obama’s “style.”

“With the exception of his impressive delivery and trademark style,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor, “last night’s speech was pedestrian, liberal boilerplate that any Democratic lawmaker could have given at any time in recent memory.”

Rubio, to his credit, showed the ability to laugh at himself, appearing on several Wednesday-morning TV programs while holding a bottle of water.

So both Obama and Rubio will be remembered for earning some points with the public Tuesday night. Unfortunately, they probably turned out to be only style points.