Rubio Repeats a Failed Message

Straight Up: But the Florida senator's weak State of the Union rebuttal wasn't entirely his fault.

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It was as if a Mitt Romney speechwriter had taken control of android Rubio and said, "Well, with one more reiteration -- now delivered by a young, nonbillionaire Latino -- our 2012 campaign message will finally carry the day." It didn't. Not even close. It didn't work in November and does not work now. Rubio certainly was not a competitive challenge to the clarity, commonsense quality and fundamentally reasonable tone of Obama's address.

Rubio seems a talented and ambitious young politician. He may have ideas of his own and a message for America that will ultimately have some traction. If so, almost none of those qualities were on display last night. This is too bad.

It seems he does deserve some real credit for the compromise immigration-reform measure now under consideration in Washington. But this speech did nothing to elaborate on those ideas or really signal that they were a priority for Republicans. The speech did not signal that he would be an effective standard-bearer for a refashioned Republican Party. Instead, it proved only that Rubio can recite the worn-out partisan slogans of the last decade or so.

In contrast, Obama signaled unambiguously in this speech that he has mastered his message, in the fashion of a previous Great Communicator. If Republicans insist on extreme positions, Obama is clearly willing to call them on it in a direct, homespun fashion that he resisted in his first term. And if Rubio's response to the State of the Union is any indication, the Republicans really have not fashioned any convincing response to this reborn president. I'm OK with that. Are you?

Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.

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