Just when you thought your joint session depression might be terminal, a fizzy Senator Tim Scott appeared and stole the show.
Scott made history: he delivered a stunning rebuttal to a presidential address to a joint session of Congress. The rebuttal has been the Waterloo of many accomplished orators.
Senator Marco Rubio’s rebuttal to President Obama’s 2013 SOTU is remembered, if at all, for his water drinking rather than what he said.
After Nikki Haley, another talented speaker, was tapped to deliver the Republican rebuttal in 2016, NBC was moved to ponder “the curse of the SOTU response.”
Well, the curse has been broken. And how! Scott delivered an uplifting, exciting speech. It has 2024 written all over it.
President Biden’s own address was dismal. The spending for which he calls is truly frightening. This sort of spending never ends well. And such spending can’t be met by taxing only the super rich, and most of us realize that and are worried.
The optics, as they say, were terrible: a sparsely populated House chamber with masked Members seeming to creep about. Ben Domenech observed that, as virtually all present had been vaccinated, it was theater. But it was creepy theater.
Biden has been conferring with historians to find out how he can become a second FDR, and he is prepared to service this vanity even if it means passing his legislation through parliamentary maneuvers. His claiming credit for the vaccine, developed before he took office, made him seem not big but small.
Into this depressing scene stepped Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. If President Biden was a wet blanket, Senator Scott was, as Winston Churchill said of FDR (sorry, Joe), like opening your first bottle of champagne. Scott’s speech was well-crafted, filled with content, and beautifully delivered. It’s the first time I’ve felt hope in ages.
I urge you to read Senator Scott’s beautiful speech.
First off, Scott likes the United States. He appreciates our history and he knows that families such as his own are a beautiful part of that history. Good golly, we all are. Scott has been the victim of racism, but he knows we are not a racist country. He also knows how cynically the accusation of racism is being used.
Scott, who has that rare talent of getting off a zinger in a comfortable, homey manner, dexterously kicked off his remarks with the observation that President Biden “seems to be a good man” but has divided us:
“Our president seems like a good man. His speech was full of good words. But President Biden promised you a specific kind of leadership,” Scott said. “Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes. We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart.”
The Senator gracefully recounted the history of Operation Warp Speed (not a wasted exercise, as veteran journalist Gloria Borger reportedly said that “everybody understands that Operation Warp Speed happened under Biden”) and the bipartisan nature of COVID legislation during the previous administration.
President Biden believes in government. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal described what we heard last night as a proposal for “cradle-to-grave government.” But, as the editorial goes on to observe, it is worse than that.
Biden’s plan “rejects the old social contract of work for benefits.” Biden is not proposing strengthening the “safety net” but rather making all of us dependent on government programs. The editorial calls this “mainlining benefits to middle-class families so they become addicted to government—and to the Democratic Party that has become the promoting agent of government.” This is a drab prospect, even if we could afford it.
Senator Scott gave a good critique of the Biden economic proposals and the Democrats’ plan to restructure how we vote, which he characterized as “a Washington power grab.” In discussing changes to the electoral system, Scott captured the cynicism of flinging around the racism charge:
This is not about civil rights or our racial past. It’s about rigging elections in the future. And, no, the same filibuster that President Obama and President Biden praised when they were senators, the same filibuster that the Democrats used to kill my police reform bill last year, has not suddenly become a racist relic just because the shoe is on the other foot.
In a welcome contrast with what was on offer in the President’s address last night, Senator Scott puts his faith in individuals and families to create our own lives. He was the son of a single mother, whose tough love, religious faith, belief in the power of education, and hard work made a future for her two sons.
Quite different from the “Life of Julia” envisioned by the Obama administration and now echoed by the Biden.
Senator Scott’s experience made him particularly the right man to point out just who is being hurt by the Biden administration’s failure to get the schools open: kids like him.
Every great speech (and I truly believe this was a great speech) has a memorable detail. This was it for me last night:
I remember, every morning, at the kitchen table, my grandfather would open the newspaper and read it — I thought. But later, I realized he had never learned to read it. He just wanted to set the right example.
We should have a talk about worthy role models and unworthy role models sometime. But that is for another time. Scott also mentioned that he is working on police reform for a second time:
I extended an olive branch. I offered amendments. But Democrats used the filibuster to block the debate from even happening. My friends across the aisle seemed to want the issue more than they wanted a solution. But I’m still working. I’m hopeful that this will be different.
The ending of the speech was terrific. Here it is:
Our best future won’t come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you, the American people. Black, Hispanic, white and Asian. Republican and Democrat. Brave police officers and Black neighborhoods. We are not adversaries. We are family. We are all in this together.
And we get to live in the greatest country on Earth. The country where my grandfather, in his 94 years, saw his family go from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. So I am more than hopeful — I am confident — that our finest hour has yet to come. Original sin is never the end of the story. Not in our souls, and not for our nation. The real story is always redemption.
I am standing here because my mom has prayed me through some really tough times. I believe our nation has succeeded the same way. Because generations of Americans, in their own ways, have asked for grace and God has supplied it. So I will close with a word from a worship song that helped me through this past year of Covid. The music is new, but the words draw from scripture.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May His presence go before you, and behind you and beside you. In your weeping and rejoicing, He is for you. May His favor be upon our nation for a thousand generations, and your family and your children and their children.
Good night, and God bless the United States of America.
Maybe we won’t be smashed by a socialist juggernaut after all.
It doesn’t get much better than the Pericles of South Carolina’s speech last night.