Drinking the Poland Spring

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. 

However, non-conservative pundit opinions of Marco Rubio—whether progressive, centrist, or only adhering to the ideology of clicks—are as easy to predict as the Weekly Standard's views on the president's marquee policy speech. On the other end of the spectrum, it doesn't matter that Rubio's speech was void of any novel policy proposals, or that it made egregious misstatements about Obama's plans, or that dehydration left him looking more Falstaff than Prince Hal. Republicans ate it up, as is evidenced by this not-so-scientific poll on the National Review homepage.

Why is Rubio's hot-thang cachet undiminished after earning the Beltway equivalent of a single-digit Rotten Tomatoes score? Because he's the key to keeping the party's makeover from being anything but plastic surgery. He's Latino—a demographic that was once in reach for Republicans before the Party made being a Latino and conservative near mutually exclusive propositions. He's a young whippersnapper in a party of creaky old men, and yet he votes like someone who's collected Social Security for decades. As all the voices condemning the rebuttal today note, it seems like a tenuous bet to ride all your hopes on a guy who is making the same tired speeches Republicans have been making ad nauseum for years—albeit with a babycheeked, nonwhite face. 

But Rubio and the Republicans think they have one trump card: Marco Rubio is a charismatic son of a gun. Except, is Rubio connecting to anyone besides the party's base? It doesn't seem likely, but don't tell the GOP. Rubio might not be a scientist, man, but that feeling Republicans get when the senator starts railing against taxes is one that will greatly prolong the lifespan of the party's little makeover scheme. It may not be until 2016 that they finally learn the majority of the country ain't buying what he's selling. 

So They Say

"People say Marco Rubio is a good speaker. I see why they say it. He's warm. Polished enough. He has a nice smile. He exudes what seems like earnestness. If Arrested Development's Lucille 2 had to take a GOP presidential contender as her escort to a charity auction at the Balboa Bay Club, Rubio is the one she'd invite."

 —Conor Friedersdorf

Daily Meme: The SOTU VIP Cheatsheet

  • Obama and Rubio are receiving the bulk of the media's post-SOTU fawning and scoffing, but the real stars of the night, in our humble opinion, were the people who earned shoutouts in Obama's address.
  • There was Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Haitian immigrant who had to wait hours and hours to vote in the 2012 election, but wait she did
  • "When she emerged from the North Miami Public Library with an 'I Voted' sticker, the crowd erupted in applause."
  • Victor, who calls Obama her son, said yesterday, “No one should have to wait in line that long. But I was going to persist because I really wanted to vote.”
  • Then you had Menchu De Luna Sanchez, a nurse at the NYU Langone Medical Center who helped move 20 high-risk babies when Hurricane Sandy shutdown Manhattan. She said of being able to sit in the chambers, “It’s a dream of a lifetime. This is the best thing that ever happened to me."
  • The other people mentioned in the State of the Union all were victims of American's gun-violence epidemic, and provided a powerful and unsettling denouement to Obama's otherwise rote speech.
  • There was Gabby Giffords, who was recently profiled in Vogue and is staffing up a super PAC to promote gun safety. 
  • There was Brian Murphy, the officer who was shot nine times by the Oak Creek sikh temple shooter but pushed his colleagues to continue on and stop the murderer instead of tending to his injuries.
  • When Obama asked how he did it, Murphy replied, “That’s just the way we’re made.” 
  • And most heartbreaking was the story of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old who performed in Obama's inaugural with her high school's marching band, and was killed in a shooting in Chicago less than a week later. 
  • Obama said of her, "she loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend."
  • Her parents sat with the First Lady, and Obama said the same adlibbed refrain he said after introducing each of the victims of gun violence—"They deserve a vote." Expect to hear that again—and again. 
  • Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Crowley, said of the night, "It's bittersweet, because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this.”  

What We're Writing

  • Obama made pre-kindergarten education a priority in last night's speech, and while conservatives have long decried the idea of public pre-K, Sharon Lerner demonstrates, with facts, why they're so, so wrong.
  • Words are hard, but pictures are easy, and the ones that move might be even better. Anne Friedman has a GIF round-up of the SOTU just for you.

What We're Reading

  • We heard "smarter government" a few times last night, but the real point was the rebuttal of that Reagan era Cro-Magnonism, "Government bad, markets good."
  • The big guy on Penn Ave. also came out in favor of a significantly increased federal minimum wage, which is a big step for the increasingly large number of people that are making it. The problem, as TNR points out, is that $9 is still less than it should be accounting for inflation, and it's way less than a living wage.
  • As far as foreign policy, the President's speech last night made him seem less decider and more avoider.
  • The math of the War on Terror has never really worked out, what with the way we kill so many more of each other than terrorists ever have. And now that the conflict is morphing into the War on American Values, Civil Liberties, and the Innocent Children of the Rest of the World, maybe it's time we took a stand against the whole business?
  • Jeff Madrick writes of Obama and more government spending, "We have an intelligent president who is moving in the right direction. But he is moving too slowly, hobbled by his obeisance to the deficit hawks."
  • You simply must read Esquire's guide to good eye contact. (Note to a certain senator: Don't keep eye contact while taking a hydration break in a nationally broadcast speech.)

Poll of the Day

Gallup came out with a poll today designed to fire up both the evangelicals that cluster in the South and the nihilistic, hedonistic, atheistic liberals that flock to the coasts. Mississippi, Utah, and Alabama are the most religious states in the union, with the rest of the antebellum beauties right behind. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are the least God-fearing, along with most of the other tried-and-true blue states. Forty percent of Americans overall say that they're very religious, comfortably between Mississippi's 58 percent and Vermont's 19 percent.

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