America, meet the GOP.
As President Obama laid out a forward-looking agenda to rebuild our infrastructure, invest in new energy technologies, bring manufacturing jobs back to America, help homeowners refinance their mortgages and strengthen our educational system, Republican lawmakers sat on their hands like petulant school kids forced to drink a bottle of grandma's cough syrup.
In a speech that 77 percent of viewers seemed to like, according to a CNN/ORC poll, Obama called for smarter, not bigger, government and an end to the "manufactured" crises over the deficit that have plagued Washington since Republicans took control of the House two years ago. "Let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan," the president reminded us.
Try telling that to today's Republican Party, which has increasingly become defined by its suddenly convenient obsession with debt that didn't bother them under President Bush, its narrow-minded resistance to diversity and inclusion and its inflexible opposition to almost any proposal — even former Republican ideas like "Obamacare" — once it's been embraced by President Obama.
Perhaps no symbol better expressed the GOP's grumpiness problem than House Speaker John Boehner planted firmly in his seat last night with all the happiness of a prison guard on the graveyard shift. Although the president tried to extend an olive branch to House leaders on issues like immigration and gun violence, Boehner could not manage to lift his cheekbones far enough to remove the dour expression engraved on his face. And so he sat uncomfortably and did not rise for the repeated standing ovations that greeted the president.
He didn't stand when the president called for immigration reform. He didn't stand when the president called for health care for wounded warriors. He didn't stand for efforts to reform our broken voting system. He didn't even stand when President Obama introduced Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old woman who waited in line for hours in her North Miami polling place to cast her ballot in last year's presidential election.
Boehner's refusal to stand was so bluntly awkward that one witty observer quickly labeled him "the Chris Brown of Congress." But he was not alone. Last year's GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was caught on camera refusing to applaud when Obama cited his own running mate Mitt Romney's proposal to tie the minimum wage to the cost of living. If Obama is for it, Republicans must be against it, even if it was their idea.
That's why NRA leader Wayne LaPierre no longer supports criminal background checks for gun purchases even though he supported the idea before Obama took office. And that's why Boehner looked completely out of place last night when he was forced to stand, ever so reluctantly, to acknowledge the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who lost her life to senseless gun violence.
In the president's most passionate riff of the evening, he urged Congress to hold an up-or-down vote on each of the gun violence proposals currently under consideration. "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," the president demanded. "The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote." But then, as the president listed the cities of various gun-related tragedies from Oak Creek to Tucson to Blacksburg, Boehner quickly retreated to his seat.
When the president was done, Republicans scrambled to broadcast their latest anointed savior, Marco Rubio, to deliver the official party response. But after a few minutes of standard anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric that seemed oddly more directed at the party's base than at the middle of the country, Rubio wet his lips, wiped his mouth, and took the most awkward televised swig of water since Madonna famously locked her lips around a bottle of Evian in Truth or Dare.
The Twitterverse erupted, mocking "Rubio's drinking problem" with labels like "#watergate" and "Gulp Fiction." The Rev. Al Sharpton, on MSNBC, even compared Rubio's performance to "Amateur Night at the Apollo." Bobby Jindal never looked so good. And Rand Paul, the other possible Republican 2016 candidate who delivered a response Tuesday night, was quickly forgotten.
And therein lies the GOP problem. Even the fresh young new guys are just as clueless and out of touch as the old grumpy guys.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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