Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I didn’t see all of the State of the Union address last night. I saw the beginning, a few moments here and there, and the very end. It wasn’t because I couldn’t stand it, it wasn’t because it was oh so very predictable (it was), but rather because I was very tired and ended up falling asleep. Yes, it was that riveting. It did, however, give me an opportunity to do something entirely different – read it.

I saw enough to get the feeling for the atmosphere, the pomp and the enthusiasm that accompanies such an event. I will say that based on what I saw and media response that there should be little surprise about the quality of the delivery or the writing. It was polished, practiced and nailed. But although it earned high marks in form, it offered little of substance. So, lets get right down to it:

In the very first paragraph, the president acknowledges the passing of Coretta Scott King. By happy coincidence, she died earlier in the day and the president’s speechwriters quickly and skillfully wrote her passing into the address. “So what’s wrong with that?” one may ask. Nothing… unless, it is used to avoid a touchy subject that has been forced to the forefront, one that surfaced with the rising floodwaters of Katrina. Skipping, for now, the near first half of the speech, let’s talk about Katrina. The president did, way out at the end of the speech, in two measly paragraphs.

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency -- and stays at it until they're back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity. (Applause.)

No mention of the racial inequity, no mention of the bumbling of FEMA and others and no regard to the reality that those hurt the worst were largely not white. Those left to fend for themselves were ignored perhaps not because of their color, but it is also true that vast majority of those left behind were of color. Although it is true that much of the formerly legal, overt discrimination has been eliminated, I think that if Mrs. King were there she would be the first to tell us that institutionalized, covert racism is alive and well. It is ironic that I have spent more words on Katrina (never mind racism) right here than the president did in his entire 5,000 plus word address.

Almost half of the address was spent on the “war on terrorism” and the establishing of democracy in Iraq. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I saw what amounts to the resurgence of a pejorative label that has not been used since the days before WWII. He used it throughout his speech not only in regards to the Middle East, but towards those opposing free trade, immigration, the war and of course, the spreading of democracy/freedom. Opposition in any to all of these areas will garner one the label isolationist.

I won’t spend much energy talking about the Middle East save this: We are at war. Regardless of the information or lack thereof, regardless of any maliciousness or just shear stupidity, and even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were purposely duped for the personal gain of a few, I feel it would not be a good idea to bale on Iraq now. In his defense, the president did allot one sentence to the mistakes made in Iraq. “Along the way, we have benefitted (sic) from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties.” Well, sort of.

He defended domestic wiretapping by invoking the ever-popular 9/11 defense. He called for making the patriot act permanent. He called for making the tax cut permanent. “Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending.” said the president. He plans to ”reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.” He was not specific.

He went on through a laundry list of “keeping America competitive” proposals that may indeed produce results, if ever enacted. Like his Social Security reform plan, these proposals will not succeed if they have no basis in logic, do not have the support of congress and smack of the corruptive influence of special interests that is embedded in Washington. Bush on the recent scandals? “A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust. (Applause.) Honorable people in both parties are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington -- I support your efforts. Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility -- and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray. (Applause.)” That’s it. You didn’t really expect anymore, did you?

He finishes with the litany of “a hopeful America” statements. These are the social ideals he would like to be associated with. Proposals for programs like “No Child Left Behind” get inserted here. It is where you’ll find the two Katrina paragraphs. It is full of notable progress in fighting disease such as HIV/AIDS and that ethical standards in medicine should ban “ human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.” Human-animal hybrids??

In conclusion, he indirectly compared himself and our issues to the likes of Lincoln and the Civil War, to Dr. Martin Luther King and the battle for equality and to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and WWII. I think he may be a bit premature. The State of the Union has been better, it’s been worse. The president’s numbers will likely go up not because of any change in this state, but because of the effective rallying cry from our leader. It’s part of his job – the one part that he’s pretty good at.


Ellen said...

Reading your assessment I find that I pretty much had the same take as you. My foremost thought was that it was a speech of damage control, and very little in the substance area. Funny that the pundits on PBS remarked on the lack of substance as well.

Just to be sure I didn't miss a beat, I printed out a copy of the speech for myself (via your link) and will have to read it over. I, too, missed a few points, as I was sleepy and missed the ending.

Brilliant post as usual.

neal said...

I didn't get a chance to see the whole thing either but I didn't think it would be much anyway.

Before I go any further I would like to tell you a story about racism, especially in the south. I was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida back in 1985. I went to a local tractor pull, one of those events where souped up trucks try to pull a weight through mud. There was a father and son in front of me and a colored deputy sheriff walks by and this kid, couldn't have been older than 6 said this, and I quote him, not my own personal thougths, 'Daddy, ain't it a shame they let niggers be cops'. My jaw almost hit my kneecaps. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. So yes, prejudice and racism is alive and well in the south.

One thing I did notice and it was mentioned by the news anchors after the speech, there is a huge gulf between the two parties. It seems year by year this gulf grows wider and it is making it harder and harder to pass any meaningful legislation.

With that said I don't think anything the president tries to get accomplished will pass without a helluva struggle. That leads me into one of the problems I see with our government today. Nobody seems to want to sign on to a bill unless they get something out of it. The old saying, 'scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' fits the way that our government works. Any bill gets so loaded down in pork before it will pass that it either loses its effectiveness or becomes a monster that costs the taxpayers too much.

President Bush mentioned he wanted to re-instate the line item veto. I think our government needs more than just that. I think two things need to be done to rectify some of the problems found within our nations capital. First of all should be mandatory term limits for all elected officials. Let them serve no more than two terms, then go back to the real world where the policies they made will affect their lives also.

Second we need to get the special interests out of government. I think that if our elected officials need to know how we feel they are doing or need our opinions they should hear it from us. We need to get off our asses and get more involved also but that is a seperate issue, apathy among the people of this country. Getting back to the point, we should stop special interest groups from lobbying any elected official and put an immediate halt to any and all financial contributions by them to a political candidate. Let the people donate up to a certain point, but halt all contributions by organizations with an agenda of their own. If the money stops flowing to the politicians they will listen to the people who vote for them, not those who contribute the most to their war chests.

I think I have said enough. None of what I said will ever happen. The government is not going to bite the hand that feeds it. One can dream though...

Lee Ann said...

Hey, just stopped by!

Michael K. Althouse said...

ellen: I sure wasn't surprised. I know what he should've said, I know what he could've said, but predictably he said what he would've said. Thanks for the compliment. I don't feel like I really nailed it, but time in matters such as these is of the essence, I had to get something out.

neal: I grew up in California, but my mom's side of the family is from the deep south. My first visit as a kid (early 70s ??) was an eye opener, I've seen it get better over the years, but the culture is a far cry from California.

I don't expect much change from this administration either. I think that if they don't screw anything up will be the best we can hope for.

lee ann: Thanks for stopping by. I check your blog out regularly too.

Jamie Dawn said...

I watched the whole speech, start to finish.
It was confidently well delivered, but I like it much better when Bush speaks in a less formal setting where he can be more relaxed. I saw part of a speech of his today and liked it much better.

The Zombieslayer said...

I liked part of it, hated part of it. I'm an isolationist, huh? I'm tired of this name calling crap.

Plus, you know how I feel about the Patriot Act.

The other thing, there are three parties in Congress, not two.

Thanks for the link. I was going to look for it, and you posted it. Saved me the trouble. :)

Keith said...

Good post, Mike.

Of course, you give the president higher marks than I did ( ... but you brought out some points that are interesting. Especially the name calling aspect.

BTW - I am a "non-interventionist" which is quite different from an "isolationist." But given a choice between isolationism and neo-con imperialism, I'd chose the latter every time!

Dawner said...

I can't say that I watched the whole thing. It was kind-of hard to hear over the moaning, burping, loud laughing and pool balls breaking at the local tavern I was at but the one part that I did hear was about how we are using up our natual fuel resources.

I kind of had to ponder this idea. Yeah I know it is eventually going to be true. Yet it is funny that NOW we want to talk about Nuclear Power. I remember in the 80's this was such a taboo. The enviromentalist jumped all over it. Now everyone seems to be all for it. Yes, there are positives and negatives, I guess my question is does it really need to take 20 years for our government to look into issues. It really doesn't make me feel all that safe. When something major affects us I want answers a little quicker. I felt it was more of a show then a solution.

Ellen said...

I originally moved to Atlanta from the Northeast back in 83.
Things have updated a little bit since the 70's and the 80's. It is not considered PC to use the N-word here. As a matter of fact, it is considered very rude.
Some very rural areas are still somewhat backwards, but they're not the majority they once were by any means.

No doubt we have a long way to go, but I have seen a lot of progress in 23 years.

Unfortunetely, they still keep putting tooth-less hicks on TV to talk about the latest tornado that passed through, but for the most part, red-neck is not thought to be cool.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Yeah, ditto for sure. The only thing I don't agree with is the Katrina problems. That was mostly piss-poor planning from the local and state gov'ts there. All that being said, aid would've arrived there sooner if the National Guard wasn't busy fighting overseas(???)!!!

Unknown said...

I didn't watch the State of the Union Address, but I did catch the speech from Tennessee on the following day. I was blown away by Bush's candor. I couldn't believe it was HIM making the speech. That made me suspect.

I don't believe in isolationism, either. However, I think his whole mission of making the entire world 'democratic' is a bit of a stretch. He can't just go and invade anyone who he thinks needs shaping up. It's all politics/schmolitics. If he wanted to make a big difference in someone's lives, he would be helping Tibet. Of course, we can't go against China for political reasons.

My point?? I would like a bit more honesty from the Oval Office, and less blowing of smoke.