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.