President Obama just finished his final state of the union address but the biggest news of the night was to be found in the rebuttal speech delivered shortly thereafter by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
In a first for a major Republican speech, the Palmetto State’s first non-white chief executive said that her party would “respect differences in modern families,” a likely allusion to the widespread acceptance in public opinion polls of same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court decision last year which made marriage equality the law in every state.
According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of self-identified independents support giving homosexuals the same marriage rights as heterosexuals. Even 32 percent of Republicans support it, including 62 percent of GOPers between the ages of 18 and 29.
Haley’s speech also made reference to concerns of many conservatives that religious liberty would continue to be protected even as equal rights are given to gays and lesbians.
The line about “modern families” could also likely be a reference to the growing number of single-parent households in the country, a social trend which had been denounced before by Republicans in the past.
Undoubtedly, Haley will face criticism from anti-gay forces within the GOP for tonight’s gesture so she deserves credit for taking such an important step.
The South Carolina governor also took what could be interpreted as a veiled swipe at leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump who has made anger at immigrants the cornerstone of his campaign and has called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country:
During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country. […] We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.
Haley’s remarks about immigration set off angry conservative pundit Ann Coulter who blasted her on Twitter saying that “Trump should deport Nikki Haley,” a reference to the governor’s Indian heritage.
Update. Haley confirmed she was referencing Donald Trump in an interview Wednesday morning with NBC News.
“Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” she said. But she added that he was not the only person she had in mind in her remarks. “There’s other people in the media, there’s people in my state, I think we’re seeing it across the country,”
The criticism for Haley also continued to pour in as the anti-immigrant and pro-Confederate site VDARE denounced what it called her “treachery.”
The full text of the Republican response speech is below:
I’m Nikki Haley, Governor of the great state of South Carolina.
I’m speaking tonight from Columbia, our state’s capital city. Much like America as a whole, ours is a state with a rich and complicated history, one that proves the idea that each day can be better than the last.
In just a minute, I’m going to talk about a vision of a brighter American future. But first I want to say a few words about President Obama, who just gave his final State of the Union address.
Barack Obama’s election as president seven years ago broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans. As he did when he first ran for office, tonight President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He is at his best when he does that.
Unfortunately, the President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.
As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We’re feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities.
Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.
Soon, the Obama presidency will end, and America will have the chance to turn in a new direction. That direction is what I want to talk about tonight.
At the outset, I’ll say this: you’ve paid attention to what has been happening in Washington, and you’re not naive.
Neither am I. I see what you see. And many of your frustrations are my frustrations.
A frustration with a government that has grown day after day, year after year, yet doesn’t serve us any better. A frustration with the same, endless conversations we hear over and over again. A frustration with promises made and never kept.
We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around.
We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken.
And then we need to fix it.
The foundation that has made America that last, best hope on earth hasn’t gone anywhere. It still exists. It is up to us to return to it.
For me, that starts right where it always has: I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every day how blessed we were to live in this country.
Growing up in the rural south, my family didn’t look like our neighbors, and we didn’t have much. There were times that were tough, but we had each other, and we had the opportunity to do anything, to be anything, as long as we were willing to work for it.
My story is really not much different from millions of other Americans. Immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America. They wanted better for their children than for themselves. That remains the dream of all of us, and in this country we have seen time and again that that dream is achievable.
Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.
At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.
We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.
I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.
This past summer, South Carolina was dealt a tragic blow. On an otherwise ordinary Wednesday evening in June, at the historic Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, twelve faithful men and women, young and old, went to Bible study.
That night, someone new joined them. He didn’t look like them, didn’t act like them, didn’t sound like them. They didn’t throw him out. They didn’t call the police. Instead, they pulled up a chair and prayed with him. For an hour.
We lost nine incredible souls that night.
What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.
Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.
We didn’t turn against each other’s race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.
We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him.
There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.
Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.
Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t have strong disagreements. We will. And as we usher in this new era, Republicans will stand up for our beliefs.
If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.
We would encourage American innovation and success instead of demonizing them, so our economy would truly soar and good jobs would be available across our country.
We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.
We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.
We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.
We would recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety. And yes, that includes the Second and Tenth Amendments.
We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.
And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military, so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.
We have big decisions to make. Our country is being tested.
But we’ve been tested in the past, and our people have always risen to the challenge. We have all the guidance we need to be safe and successful.
Our forefathers paved the way for us.
Let’s take their values, and their strengths, and rededicate ourselves to doing whatever it takes to keep America the greatest country in the history of man. And woman.
Thank you, good night, and God bless.