The Propriety of Responding to the President
Feeding into the WPRO ad, “Where do bloggers go….”, Dan Yorke brings up an interesting point. Why was there a need for a “Democrat response” to the Presidential speech on the status of the conflict in Iraq? Dan talked to Brown University’s Darrell West about it, and they came to the following conclusions:
1) There was never any sort of “opposition party” response to a televised Presidential address until the 1980’s (Ronald Reagan). Then, the argument was that the President could offer his side of a story without rebuttal. The networks acquiesced and began allowing a response to State of the Union addresses.
2) Over the years, and despite the removal of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine”, the networks continued the practice.
3) Now, it seems they’ve expanded the practice such that any Presidential address is effectively rebutted by the opposition. Even a speech offering an update on progress made in a war. Anyone ever here about the time Wendell Wilkie aired a rebuttal to one of FDR’s fireside chats? Didn’t think so.
Yorke’s point is that, since the networks are under no obligation to offer the rebuttal, they are being ideological activists by continuing to provide the opportunity. As such, the office of the President–regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican–is diminished. He can’t even get 5 minutes of breathing room to offer his case without the other side being able to take partisan political shots. Incidentally, it looked like ABC, CBS and NBC aired the Democratic response, but FOX did not (though FOXNEWS did, I think). That should stoke some fires.
I suppose this is of a piece of the broader trend towards diminishing the office of the President or that how some of us realize there was a time when politics really did stop at the waters edge.
On a side note, the best analysis of Sen. Reed’s retort comes from Kimberly Kagan:
Senator Jack Reed gave the Democratic response, and the contrast with Bush’s speech was striking to those who paid careful attention. Bush addressed the situation in Iraq with detail and nuance. He described varying situations on the ground in different, specific regions of the country, spoke of particular movements and individuals, and showed a grasp of the complexity and reality of the struggle. Reed spoke only in generalizations. He did not refer to any specific events, places, or individuals in Iraq. He spoke generally of a “Democratic plan” for withdrawal that sounded remarkably like the Baker-Hamilton plan, originally presented at the end of 2006 in a completely different operational context. The vagueness of his discussion of the situation and of his proposals contrasted starkly with the specificity even of Bush’s speech, to say nothing of the incredible complexity and detail evinced in the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. That contrast highlights once more what is really the key question of the upcoming political debate over Iraq: Whom do the American people want to run this war, Congress or the people who know something about it?