Stacey Abrams in Democratic response to #SOTU: "Even as I am very disappointed by the president's approach to our problems, I still don't want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth." https://t.co/eOKGnWx6l2 pic.twitter.com/aS5UwJIvjj— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 6, 2019
Watching the SOTU is kind of a perfunctory thing for me because, well, I do this thing on the internet where I talk about politics stuff. But I don't think I've ever had the experience of feeling like a SOTU response actually merited more of my time--usually, these are deeply awkward at best! Sometimes they seem like just a litany of negativity aimed at the current POTUS and don't so much respond to what the POTUS said, as state "I'm agin' him!" They can go long, the speaker has the unenviable spotlight of following the actual President, and the venue, lighting, etc. all seem so less-imbued with dignity and all that. And they are so often remembered for their awkwardness! Rubio's water-grab and Jindal's walk and Kennedy's Chapstick. Ernst's bread bags--although in retrospect that anecdote was not as corny as it could have been.
But I think what Abrams did exceptionally well was keep her message short, relatable, on point and pleasant. (Here's a transcript and fact check via Politico--my reference to refresh my memory, but not my entire source for what I think about her speech.)
I was worried with her upfront personal anecdote about her parents that she was about to launch into a basic stump speech that made the response more about her than about US--the United States, and how and what we are doing. But what she was laying out was a vision of shared responsibility to be good to one another because we can afford to be generous and kind when we know someone is there for you. When you know someone has your back also, you will stick up for the other. When you know the government will protect your rights and safeguard you when you need it--you can excel.
She was critical of the shutdown, because it did not reflect our values, but she did not let her criticism overwhelm the bigger message of responsible government and civic participation. Her speech was a call for elected representatives of the people to be honest and do what was right, not just what was ideologically correct. She was able to use her personal narratives to illustrate what ordinary Americans are facing all of the time, regarding the cost of health care, for example. Or even ballot access for legitimate voters.
She spoke up also for the rights and value of immigrants and for the necessity of access to health care options for everyone. She addressed climate change. Her expression of the value of civil rights was brief but said everything.
I don't really have anything to say about Trump's speech, because it had nothing to say to me. She spoke to me. She demonstrated she understood the issues, she was positive and hopeful and smiled. And I will state for the record, she is a million times more graceful about being robbed than I am about her being robbed, and I don't even live in her state.
Here's what gives me hope--the same thing that Trump acknowledged to get the biggest applause of his own speech--the women politicians who are making history and bending this arc of justice.
I don't want every politician I love to run for President, but I totally think she belongs in the US Senate because this is a stateswoman and natural leader. I just want every good thing to come her way because her speech lifted me.