The snark firestorm that exploded after a dehydrated Marco Rubio ran a duck-and-cover water-grabbing operation in the middle of his State of the Union rebuttal turned the senator's big debut into a big blah. Republican savior? Not quite—the wet whistler became the latest in an eminent line of has-beens who saw their stars flicker and fade as a direct result of giving a lackluster rebuttal. Or so we heard from the Internet, which saw a drab speech full of stale bromides—only one flux capacitor away from the 1980s, marred by that fateful sip of water—and not much else.
The president shall, Article II Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution reads, "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," so here we arrive at the yearly State of the Union address. George Washington delivered the first in 1790, but Thomas Jefferson thought it sufficient to send his thoughts on the union's state in writing, and presidents did the same until Woodrow Wilson went before Congress in 1913 to describe with his mouth how the country was doing.
During his 1982 State of the Union address, Ronald Reagan did something unusual. In keeping with his preference for locating heroism in ordinary Americans, he told the story of one Lenny Skutnik, an employee of the Congressional Budget Office who two weeks earlier leaped into the Potomac River to save a drowning woman in the wake of a plane crash. As Reagan described the event, the cameras swiveled to the gallery, where Skutnik was seated next to the First Lady. People loved it so much that it became a tradition, and every subsequent State of the Union address has featured a presidential shout-out to a regular American in the audience who has done something extraordinary.
Confirmation hearings usually go like this: Members of the administration's party praise the nominee's experience, acumen, and fine-looking family, then ask him a few questions about just how terrific a guy he is. Then members of the opposition party pull out something the nominee said years ago, take it out of context, and ask him to defend it. The smart nominee, heeding the advice he has been given by his administration handlers, answers all hostile questions with, "I look forward to working with you on that, Senator."
Get ready: Tomorrow is the second coming of the Super Bowl, at least for Beltway junkies. Everyone who's anyone will be stocking up on wings and six-packs and flipping the channel to C-SPAN to watch the John Brennan hearings, the mid-season peak of Obama's second-term appointment marathon. The reason this is must-see television? Thank Republicans, who have turned a once routine procedure into over-the-top political theater starring Walter Matthau John McCain as the very grumpiest of old men.