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Just finished watching the State of the Union Address and the President did us proud. He took a well-deserved victory lap on the topic of the economy, and gave a few specifics about what he would, ideally, like to achieve in the next two years. And those specifics were perfectly consistent with the vision of our country that he also managed to convey. It’s a good vision of an America where pragmatic people work to solve problems without reference to stale ideologies, and where the least of us matter as much as the wealthiest.

Of course, cynics might observe that it’s easy to put such a populist vision forward when the other guys are going to make sure that none of the initiatives that the President promised he would be pushing in the coming days are ever realized. The Kochs and their ilk don’t need to worry – they’ve got their guys just where the want them for the time being, and they are in a position to stalemate anything they don’t like. Just remember, everything changes and our time will come. Meanwhile, it’s good to see a Democrat clearly defining the progressive agenda we must pursue when that time does come.

The Republican response to the SOTU, which was delivered by newbie Illinois Senator Joni Ernst, was lots of fun too. I can honestly say that I found it as amusing as the President’s speech was aspirational. Stylistically, if I didn’t know better, I would  have thought Ernst was going in for irony. She immediately dinged the President for resorting to what she termed “talking points,” just before she regurgitated a litany of GOP talking points. I will agree, though, that for a woman who has been described as being as  nutty as Sarah Palin, she kept it on the mild side.

There was the obligatory, lugubrious Obamacare (ACA) trolling. Ernst couldn’t be expected to respond to the President’s verifiable observation that thanks to the ACA, health care costs, spiraling out of control just a few years ago, are beginning to stabilize, or the crucial point that millions are now insured for the first time. There was the dog-whistle to the anti-abortion contingent, as you might expect, although Ernst, a supporter of personhood amendments in the past, avoided anything too fanatical. Finally, she offered up lots of love for the military, thumbs down for terrorists, and a few not too subtle reminders that the GOP is going to call the shots when it comes to what legislation makes it to the President’s desk so they want him to be a good boy and go along to get along – which seemed to be what she meant when she talked about “working together.” We’ve  heard most of it all before, except for the implied triumphalism, and I’m pretty sure we’ll hear it a few gadzillion times more before 2016.

Ernt’s presentation was, however, truly remarkable for one thing. Her teeth. David Brooks noted on the PBS follow-up that she smiled more than  necessary. That’s an understatement. She never stopped smiling, even when expressing her sympathy for the victims of terrorism – or those whose lives have been, she believes, blighted by Obamacare. I can only conclude that she wanted everyone to see how truly beautiful her teeth are. And she has a point. They are admirable teeth. Just like Little Red Riding Hood confronted with the big, bad wolf, I found myself thinking what fine, big teeth you have, Joni Ernst.

It is true that I learned something from Ernst tonight that reinforces my beliefs about where the Republicans would like to take the country. She told a story about her childhood. It seems she had only one pair of “good” shoes and when it rained, her mother covered them with plastic bags for the trip to school. But our heroine was not ashamed to wear the plastic bags in public. No, not she. Because, you see, when she got on the school bus, most of the other children had plastic bags on their feet too. The moral? There no shame in shared poverty. Indeed, Ernst presented it as something that might even represent an aspirational goal, an apt message from a Republican since GOP policies are apt to send us to the economic bottom poste haste.

ADDENDUM: It seems Ernst wasn’t the whole story when it comes to the GOP response to the SOTU. There was a Spanish version – delivered by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) who claimed that immigration reform was on the GOP agenda – a topic that Ernst carefully avoided except to “pledge that the GOP would “work to correct executive overreach,” which we all know means undoing any reform steps taken by the President:

As Mother Jones reported, whether Curbelo’s Spanish-language response would be a direct translation of Ernst’s was a matter of some confusion prior to the speeches.

In the end, a House Republican spokesperson told the magazine that Curbelo and Ernst would deliver “the same Republican message” — but “with their own unique stories and experiences to shape that narrative.”

Indeed. And of course there’s the fact that Ernst has actively opposed any pandering to Spanish speakers when it comes to official communications like the GOP response to the SOTU. An all around great pick to present the GOP’s governing face to the public.

ADDENDUM 2: More on Joni Ernst’s plastic breadbag shoe covers from “Breadbags of Empathy” by Paul Waldman in TAP. Great deconstruction of the contradictions inherent in the subliminal message; this hilarious sentence sums it up:

… And it’s inspiring that someone like Joni Ernst can start life in the most modest of circumstances, fitted as a baby with tiny booties made from Hostess Twinkie wrappers, then graduate to bread bags as she learned to castrate hogs (they do help keep the blood off your one good pair of shoes), and eventually grow up to do the bidding of the nation’s noblest plutocrats. It shows what’s possible in this great country of ours.