I tried to watch the State of the Union Address from a Washington hotel bar last night, but could barely hear it through the noise of drinkers who were completely ignoring the tube. And the fact that even in Political JunkieLand, people were ignoring the speech, probably tells you everything you need to note about the impact of this SOTU.This is at least the second SOTU in a row where the White House kept signalling in advance that Bush was going to unleash some big, meaty domestic proposals. Instead, we got a sentence on climate change, a vague endorsement of better fuel efficiency standards, and a content-free call for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. The one interesting idea in the speech–for limiting the tax subsidy for Cadillac employer-sponsored health plans and using the savings to subsidize health insurance for everyone else–was offset by dollops of the usual conservative pablum about Health Savings Accounts and medical malpractice lawsuit limits.I admit my attention was wandering during the Iraq sections of the speech, but I heard enough to wonder why the White House thought that repeating the same arguments Bush made during his recent prime-time speech on the subject was going to work any better than it did the first time around.Most of all, the speech reminded me of that moment back in 1995 when Republicans were calling Bill Clinton “irrelevant.” It didn’t turn out that way for Clinton, but it’s increasingly true of Bush.If Bush was largely wasting his breath, Jim Webb’s Democratic Response to SOTU was truly a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual pallid laundry list of Mark Mellman’s poll-tested bromides about work that works for working families, Webb focused on the two overriding points of difference between Democrats and Bush–the economy and the war in Iraq–and kept his arguments clear and simple. I was particularly impressed by his repeated efforts to turn around the central rationale for Bush’s war policies, arguing that the war in Iraq has been a damaging distraction from the broader war with jihadists, not its central theater.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.