Crowley's analysis of the Democratic SOTU response is spot-on, even as it's in-line. While his criticisms of the speech are the best I've read (and you should read them), it's general awfulness and ineffectiveness seem well accepted. The calls are already coming for the tradition to be scrapped, for the minority retort to be let out of its misery.
There's something nicely, idealistically American about guaranteeing the opposition party airtime to respond to the President's address. Just because they don't do it well (and that goes for Republicans and Democrats), doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. What it does mean is that it needs to rescued from irrelevancy.
So let's start at the beginning. It's a speech. To succeed it requires three things: a speaker people want to listen to in the first place; a speaker possessing the oratorical skill needed to retain the audience's attention, and a well-crafted text.
Working backwards, last night's text was poor. Cluttered and off-key, it could no more decide on its tone than its focus. As the speech is scheduled for after the president's address, we already know the audience is tired of watching politicians talk, so from now on, keep it short and focused. That last night's SOTU was going to be remembered for Social Security was no secret, particularly not after the Republican's pre-briefed reporters on the issue. And, sure enough, the morning's papers reported a leader obsessed with pension plans. As such, the Democratic response should have started with something like "We know it's been a long night of talking, so we're going to keep it short and tell you about our position on Social Security privatization. If you want to know about our other policies for keeping the economy strong and the nation safe, please go to www.democrats.org. Now, tonight you heard the president say..."