Republicans haven't had the greatest luck responding to the Statue of the Union Addresses by President Obama. There was Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R-LA) infamous Norma Desmond-walk though a mansion before delivering a speech so weak that it pretty much killed his presidential aspirations. There was Sen. Mario Rubio (R-FL) who became a laughingstock for his deer-in-the-headlights search for his water bottle. There also was Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who delivered her entire response into the wrong camera. (Though in fairness hers wasn't the "Official" GOP response, just her own self-indulgent "Tea Party" organization reply.
And now there was Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).
I have to acknowledge upfront that I didn't watch all of Ms. Ernst's response, or even most of it. But I feel I had a good reason. She had been a United States Senator for a whole two weeks. So, I figured her inside knowledge of the state of the union wasn't a whole lot more than, say, mine -- and maybe even less so since she's been so deeply focused solely on the state of Iowa running for office there the past year -- that it wasn't likely I would get much thoughtful insight or specifics. And from what I saw (and later read), I didn't.
She did deliver a perfectly straight forward speech, with no surface muck-ups, if you don't count a bit wooden and distant, but it dealt with the tried-and-true GOP staples of Richard Nixon's "good Republican cloth coat" and self-reliance in an effort to make her seem homey.
And unfortunately that's where she screwed up big time. You'd think that Republicans would have learned to actually vet this things beforehand and saying something like, "Hmm, gee, Senator, you really can't say that, it's going to make you seem really, really...well, bad."
In hawking her standing Republican mantra of self-reliance and "we did it all ourselves" and it doesn't take a village, and we don't need no stinkin' government, She said about her parents --
"They had very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands. But they worked, they sacrificed, and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren. And because they did, an ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work."
And a lot a government subsidies and hand-outs.
Now, I'd be pretty certain that Joni Ernst's parents and family worked incredibly hard under very difficult conditions. But that isn't the point. Because it isn't the point she was trying to make in trying to contradict the president's speech and proposals. That's precisely why she left out some very pesky facts that would be troubling for her point and Republican's.
Her father, Richard Culver, got $14,705 in conservation payments and $23,690 in commodity subsidies from the federal government.
Her uncle, Dallas Culver, received $367,141 in federal agricultural aid..
And her great-grandfather Harold Culver was $57,479 in federal aid, mostly corn subsidies—between 1995 and 2001.
Further, a construction company owned her was granted over $200,000 in county contracts. (For those keeping a scorecard, this occurred when Ms. Ernst was auditor of Montgomery County, Iowa, which new studies suggest might have violated a conflict of interest code over contracts to family members of county officials.
To be clear, there's nothing inherently wrong with getting federal subsidies. (Well, okay, non-conflict of interest federal subsidies.) The problem is when you're a hypocrite and try to claim you did it All On Your Own, without that durn gov'ment getting in your way.
And now we have a whole year to ponder who the Republican Party will chose to screw up next year's response to President Obama's State of the Union Address. With the presidential election all the closer, it's hard to know if the contenders will be rushing for the honor -- or away running as fast as they can in the other direction.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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