Gephardt's State of the Union Response Will Be 'Populist Message,' Experts Say
July 7, 2008
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) will give the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's second State of the Union address Tuesday night, but what are the political ramifications of his decision to deliver the second-most-watched speech of the evening?
As always, there is as much secrecy as possible surrounding the content of both the State of the Union address and the Democratic Party's response. But Democratic political consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of Laszlo and Associates, says she has a pretty good idea what President Bush is going to discuss.
"There's enough leakage coming out of the White House," she said, "that an Olympic swimmer could drown in it."
The war on terrorism, economic recovery, improvements in education, and health care are some of the topics Laszlo Mizrahi expects to hear mentioned in both Bush's address, and Gephardt's response.
Laszlo Mizrahi dismisses Gephardt's well-known political aspirations to be speaker of the House and even president as the motive behind his choice to deliver the response.
"It's going to be either him or [Senate Majority Leader Tom] Daschle by seniority, and by position and rank," she said. "It's really Gephardt's turn."
Without a compelling reason to do so, Laszlo Mizrahi adds, Democrats would not choose one of the party's more likely 2004 presidential contenders.
"You can't pick [Sen.] John Kerry (D-Mass.), because how do you pick Kerry and not pick [Sen.] John Edwards (D-N.C.)," she said. "You have to have a certain title or there has to be a real reason that you're doing it that makes sense for the Democratic Party."
Laszlo Mizrahi points to previous Republican responses to then-President Bill Clinton's State of the Union addresses, given by Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
"The reason was that there was a huge 'gender gap' and they were trying to get women to think that the Republican Party was female friendly," she claimed.
Republican analysts said at the time of those addresses, however, that their goal was to communicate the Republican response to the broadest possible cross-section of the American people.
Strategists say Dunn and Collins were chosen not so much for their sex as for their ability to communicate and to avoid being labeled "mean-spirited," a term Democrats were liberally applying to Republicans at the time.
Laszlo Mizrahi says Democrats will also have to use caution when questioning the president's policy initiatives, in light of his higher than 80 percent approval ratings.
"The economy is something the Democratic response will want to take a look at," she said. "But at the same time, we don't want to do it in such a way that it would appear to be mean-spirited or partisan, because the country is very united behind the president, as it should be, in his war on terrorism."
That may be difficult for Gephardt to accomplish, given the types of speeches he's been giving recently, such as his January 19 address to the Democratic National Committee.
"And I know that 9-11 affected this economy, and I would never say that it did not. But it's also true that we now exist under an administration's economic policy, which has had an impact on this economy. And it's not the right impact," Gephardt charged. "Because they don't use the right values in putting that policy together."
Despite Gephardt's rather strong rhetoric so close to the State of the Union address, Laszlo Mizrahi feels he is a good choice to present the Democrats' vision for the future.
"Gephardt has a real almost populist message for people who are unemployed. He really resonates with people who are economically distressed, which a lot of people are right now," she said. "And, he's not running for president as much as the others are."
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