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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Filler: GOP should hit the pause button on TV rebuttals

Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water

Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during his Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. (Feb. 12, 2013) Credit: AP

Even if Marco Rubio had made a passable rebuttal to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech -- one that didn't involve repeated face touching and a startling dive toward a tiny bottle of water -- it still would have been moronic. The first prominent Republican who understands this has a chance to become a legend.

Here's what I'd do if I were Rand Paul, or Paul Ryan, or Rubio himself, or even a non-presidential-aspiring Republican like John McCain (I mean, I hope he's done aspiring) or Lindsey Graham. I'd call a press conference and say:

"I'm here to condemn the practice of doing immediate rebuttal speeches to State of the Union addresses. Since 1966, both parties have been doing it when they're out of the White House, but nobody's delivered a good one since Oklahoma Republican congressman J.C. Watts in 1997, and Watts could sell hair cream to alligators. I say we move on.

"Let's refuse to lend further credence to the idea that no matter what Obama says, we will oppose it. It's part and parcel of our corrosive politics that fighting the other party is the ultimate priority, regardless of what it's suggesting.

"What if Obama tricks us next year and focuses his whole speech on the importance of strong family structures, getting married before having children, the necessity of a good education and the role of Jesus in his life? He's smart enough to do that, you know.

"Then one of us would have to get up before the entire nation and say, 'This man is trying to ruin the nation, with his . . . love of Jesus, traditional family values and strong moral character.' I guess we could get Gingrich to do it, but it still seems kind of mean, and would make us all look bad.

"Plus, how dumb is it to let the most literate man in politics, along with his top advisers, huddle for three months to craft, polish and rehearse a speech, and then, 11 minutes after he's done, respond to it, and let the punditocracy judge who won? Obama won. The president, Republican or Democrat, always wins, because he delivers an hour of detailed, dazzling ideas, and his opponent stands up and basically says the president is for bad things, and he lies, and all the ideas he says will work won't. If they were going to work, they would have by now, and they haven't, and that's why things are bad. Listen to us, and things will be good.

"So next year, I say we give the rebuttal speech three weeks after the State of the Union, on TV, in the same chamber. Maybe we could even have the same endlessly fascinating view of Joe Biden and John Boehner trying to decide whether to applaud, smirk, frown or catch a nap.

"I'm suggesting that whoever is writing the rebuttal should listen to the president's speech, and try to find things in it with which we agree. We could then work with him on those things.

"Where we find disagreement, we would have time to marshal facts for a counterargument, and the opportunity to create an alternative plan to the one the president suggests. That might at least be a speech worth watching, and could be a start toward defusing a political climate where the knee-jerk reaction is immediate, violent disagreement with anything the other side says. Good day."

I don't blame Rubio for being nervous. He had an assignment that went beyond difficult. It was impossible -- and worse, inappropriate. A thoughtful speech from the opposition party on the State of the Union would be welcome. An immediate rebuttal written in response to a speech the author hasn't seen? That's just toxic, no matter which party is delivering it.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.