Most politicians don’t want the burden of giving the State of the Union response for the party opposing the president. They usually come off as “ingenuine” or “scripted,” likely because of the gravity of the State of the Union itself. The speech is a huge event held in the House, filled to the brim with representatives from across the country. Most response speeches are given in an office, or, in some cases, even a school cafeteria, as the Spanish language response was this year. Of course, being on the national stage means huge pressure to succeed, which can sometimes lead to some gaffes, like when Marco Rubio dipped out of camera to grab a pint-sized water bottle after shuffling toward that side of the room for the longest twenty seconds of his life. It made him the target of mockery for months, because this is the best chance to give an outline of your party’s agenda for the following year. Stacey Abrams rose to the occasion, as there were no large mistakes or falsehoods in the speech for media outlets to latch onto. However, this also means the speech got little attention from the media, as there was no alternate angle to discuss it from. It was highly uncontroversial, which is good for the Democratic Party, but bad for publicity.
Abrams is a highly educated women, earning a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Political Science, Economics and Sociology) from Spelman College, then a Master of Public Affairs Degree (under an academic scholarship) from the University of Texas at Austin, and a law degree from Yale to top it all off. Now, names of schools aren’t everything, so a quick rundown of her track record as a representative in the Georgia House of Representatives is helpful in assessing her character. Abrams was responsible for sponsoring a bill to reform a near-defunct scholarship program with low interest student loans, stopped a bill that would have lowered income taxes but raised cable taxes (an assessment of which, showing an increase in taxes for over 80% of Georgians, was left on the desk of every representative before the vote that sank the bill), and increased public transport funding. She has written speeches since the age of seventeen, when she worked on a Congressional campaign as an editor. She has published several articles on her positions on specific issues throughout her career, so it was not a surprise for Senator Chuck Schumer to tap her as the person to deliver this key speech. This decision was also likely motivated by a potential run for Senate to represent Georgia in 2020. Abrams has not commented on any future campaigns at this time.
Now, finally, for the actual speech. Abrams focused on her working class background, with both parents working long hours with little pay, when discussing social issues. She discussed the opportunity of America, and how the idea of being able to attain more was enough to keep them going through hard times. She talked about community, how she became a public servant because she believed in the idea that when we are in trouble, there are those out there who will help. For her first direct response to the president, Abrams discussed helping deliver meals to federal workers without pay, stating, “The shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.” She went on to explain that, although she disagreed with Republicans in the Georgia House on policy issues, she understood that they believed they were doing what was best for the people in their district. They made compromises, she insists, not by shutting down, but by discussing the issues. She focused on education as well, demanding children, regardless of location, have proper funding for their education, and that gun laws keep children feeling safe in their classrooms, critiquing the hesitancy of the Trump administration to tackle this issue head on.
Then, Abrams moved to economic issues, starting with a demand to increase wages for the working class, as too many Americans are working paycheck-to-paycheck, and fewer workers are eligible to join labor unions to secure their rights. Abrams asserted, “We owe more to the millions of everyday folks who keep our economy running, like truck drivers forced to buy their own rigs, farmers caught in a trade war, small business owners in search of capital and domestic workers serving without labor protections.” Abrams also insisted that immigrants drive the economy, not harming citizens of the United States, but helping it grow, often critiquing the Trump family separation and border wall policies. She then turned the discussion to the Affordable Care Act, and its dismantlement nationwide. She called attention to the Republican-lead effort to strip protections from working class people throughout the legal system, discussing her fall into debt helping her father pay for his treatment through his battle with cancer. As she aptly put it, “…while you can defer some payments, you can’t defer cancer treatment.” She also talked about rising maternal mortality rates, especially in African American mothers, statistics that are way higher in the U.S. than in any other developed country.
Her final claim discussed voter suppression in the United States, as no change can be properly made in a democratic system without the guarantee of fair elections. She referenced Senator Mitch McConnell’s critique of a recent voter rights expansion bill in the House of Representatives, insisting, “We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a power grab”. To summarize her idea of the American spirit, she claimed, “In this time of division and crisis, we must come together and stand for, and with, one another. America has stumbled time and again on its quest towards justice and equality. But with each generation, we have revisited our fundamental truths, and where we falter, we make amends,” citing attacks on Roe v. Wade, attacks on the LGBTQ community, and continued racism, past and present, as problems Americans continue to reevaluate and attempt to solve. She concluded her speech by stating, “Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is who we are, and when we do so, never wavering, the state of our union will always be strong.”