State of the Union
Willing to Say Anything
On January 31, 2006, Bush gave a “State of the Union” speech. Here is The Progress Report’s reaction.
by Hanno T. Beck
Every year we give you our reactions to the State of the Union address.
You might think that the State of the Union address would be mainly about how the U.S. did in 2005, but that was not the case. Instead, I smell a theme for this year’s speech, and it is “the November 2006 election.”
This 2006 speech was by an extremely unpopular leader, desperate to salvage some political strength and to help Republicans win in November’s congressional elections. So we find the entire speech focused on something other than facts and figures, we find it focused on campaign promises. Yes, this was a campaign speech — complete with lots of plans for government spending, and no plans for government revenue.
Bush is less popular now than ever before. Polls show that a majority consider him to be neither honest nor trustworthy. His speechwriters dealt with that problem pretty well. Instead of setting up Bush to imitate a religious fanatic (his 2004 “I am Jesus” speech), and instead of allowing him to ramble off on a puzzling collection of unrelated tidbits (his 2005 “out of control” speech), the speechwriters gave Bush a much more plain talking tone this year.
Although it is terrible to remake the man’s image every year, as it gives a very inconsistent impression of Bush, this time the speechwriters finally seem to have something that could work.
Terror, Military, Terror, Military…
Signs of Bush’s desperation? He mentioned Osama bin Laden, twice! You know, the man who he vowed to capture four years ago, the man who he declared public enemy Number One. Bush was too ashamed to name his nemesis in the last three State of the Union speeches, but this time he needed to try anything to stir up some fear.
Another sign of desperation? Two thirds of the speech was on the subject of terror/military/Iraq (but of course not Guantanamo/torture/Abu Ghraib). It’s just about the only topic where Bush can try to make his opponents sound like weaklings. But here he fell into a trap and beat his chest way too hard. He called decreasing the American military’s quagmire in Iraq a “retreat” and a “surrender,” so now any troop withdrawls from Iraq will remind citizens and journalists of Bush’s statement. It will come back to haunt him. The continued violence and destruction in Iraq that we will witness during 2006 will make Bush and Republicans look foolish — both for getting the U.S. into this mess and for refusing to stop it. A more adequate leader would show greater care for the safety of his troops and would never place them in danger in circumstances such as the present Iraq situation, where the menace is great and the benefit negligible.
The Spying Scandal — Talk Fast and Maybe Nobody Will Notice
Bush claimed that his illegal spying on Americans is legal. That is a big issue that won’t go away. Bush only gave one short paragraph on this subject and did nothing to explain his position or why he failed to go through the secret court that was available to him for obtaining prior approval of the spying.
All That Non-Iraq Stuff
In the remaining one-third of his speech, Bush talked about domestic issues. Yes, that’s right, terror and war and the Middle East were the only foreign policy topics mentioned. The rest of the world might as well not exist. So let us give you this year’s edition of our famous charts about the U.S.’s very closest neighbors:
Number of Times That Bush Discussed Mexico in a Speech2003 State of the Union Address0 2004 State of the Union Address0 2005 State of the Union Address0 2006 State of the Union Address0 Number of Times That Bush Discussed Canada in a Speech2003 State of the Union Address0 2004 State of the Union Address0 2005 State of the Union Address0 2006 State of the Union Address0 Number of Times That Bush Discussed Any Central or South American Country in a Speech2003 State of the Union Address0 2004 State of the Union Address0 2005 State of the Union Address0 2006 State of the Union Address0
Bush did venture one quick remark about Hamas, the organization that won the recent elections in Palestine. These were elections that the U.S. pushed for, at a time when the Palestinian president, and even Israel, wanted to delay. Well, the democratic elections were held and Bush’s team, tainted by corruption scandals, lost. As for Hamas, Bush said “they must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for peace.” It is rather odd to hear someone declare a bunch of requirements for a rising movement in some other country. Where have we heard such a bossy demand before? From the Soviet Union, perhaps, but wasn’t there an American? The remarks sound so familiar. Oh yes, it was Ronald Reagan, declaring those same requirements for the African National Congress. And in both cases, the remarks made the president look out-of-touch and one-sided. Why tell a group to do those things if one is unwilling to set the same standards for that group’s opponents? Reagan did not fool anybody and decreased his own credibility — Bush is now walking that same path.
Social Security — Bush Gives Up on Privatization Plan
The biggest embarrassment Bush had during the speech was when he pointed out that the Congress had not passed his plan for privatizing Social Security — and the audience cheered!
Bush has decided to bury his plan, but without admitting defeat. Instead, he says he will name a Congressional commission to look at it. A commission of politicians, not Social Security experts, not regular citizens! I hope you understand nothing serious will emerge from such a commission. And that is fine for Bush, because he can then blame Congress for failing to advance his ideas. This is how a coward covers up for a failure instead of admitting it like a man.
One of America’s Top Issues — Health Care Costs
On the subject of health care, Bush’s great plan this year is based on the same misunderstanding that he showed in his 2005 and 2004 speeches. As we said last year, “Bush offered no hints about why health care is so much more costly in the U.S. than elsewhere, nor did he propose to study that question.” Instead, he wants to set up more convenient ways for people and employers to send more money to insurance corporations. Plus he recommends that corporate liability be reduced. That’s right, he wants the taxpayers to bear more of the risk when they get sick, even if they’re suffering as a result of doctor negligence or incompetence. No matter what the problem, it seems that Republicans see a solution in “let’s find ways to transfer more money from taxpayers to corporations”! That is their panacea, they think it works for everything. Hello? Hello? The problem is not that corporations are getting too little money, it’s that people are being forced to pay too much already!
The Other Top Issue — Federal Budget Deficit
There is a huge federal budget deficit. Bush mentioned it because he had to, but absolutely no one was fooled by what he said. “We will save $14 billion” in his new proposed budget, he said, putting him on track to cut “the [federal budget] deficit in half by 2009.” Of course that is false, but the strange thing is, it false even if you use Bush’s own numbers. His own 2005 budget proposal called for a deficit of $521 billion. Do the arithmetic — even if you do cut the deficit by $14 billion each year, it would take 18.6 years to trim it by half. What conclusion can you draw from that? Either Bush is making a very bald lie, or he and his advisors cannot do simple arithmetic, or they just don’t care. America is in danger no matter which conclusion you favor.
On the subject of energy, it’s the same Republican panacea — let’s make big corporate welfare giveaways for research on such oxymorons as “clean coal” and “clean safe nuclear energy” — he really said those things. Question — can nobody come up with a better energy strategy than sending more taxpayer dollars to corporations such as Exxon/Mobil, which this week reported record profits? Corporate welfare is an evil, it is a corrupting influence, it is a problem, definitely not a solution.
Real Science or Pretend Science?
Possibly the biggest contradiction of the evening was Bush’s suggestion that more money be spent on educating children in math and science. The idea is to enable the U.S. to compete better in the global economy. This notion comes from the same president who opposes science and wants creationism to take up classroom time, making our children an international laughingstock that cannot compete well.
Now For Something Completely Different
For additional global competitiveness, Bush also proposed — here’s that Republican panacea again — more corporate welfare! This time, the handouts would go to companies to work on nanotechnology and supercomputers. Somebody failed to tell Bush that billions are already being spent on these hot topics by the private sector. If a Republican has faith in the private sector, why would they want to make welfare handouts for the same activity?
The Big Ones
Without a doubt, the two biggest topics in the news in the United States during the last eight months have been Hurricane Katrina and the government’s bungled response to it, and politicians’ widespread corruption scandals. I believe that Bush was planning to fail to mention those entirely, but his advisors told him he would get a lot of criticism for his cowardice. So they strapped two little paragraphs onto his speech, and frankly, they sounded very weak and awkward. Perhaps even the speechwriters were unwilling to help cover for Bush on these.
Concerning the corruption scandals, Bush offered no apologies or defense, and merely said that Congress is working on the subject and he supports that. Congress, which is a major part of the problem, is in no position to fix it alone. Would a little leadership from the president be too much to ask on an ethical subject? Running away from the ethics problem will not look good for Republicans.
Concerning Hurricane Katrina, Bush again offered no apology or compassion for those who suffered due to the government botching of its response to that natural disaster. As for new ideas and new policies to suggest, Bush had none at all. That’s right, the cupboard, bursting with programs for nanotechnology and other corporate giveaways, was suddenly bare. He didn’t even make a campaign promise, no new preparedness plans, no promises to do better next time, he offered nothing. Some would say that is the biggest omission of the entire speech.
And in closing…
Oh yes, one other point. Let us note that Bush did not make his usual verbal gaffes and goofs. This suggests to me that his speechwriters have finally hit upon a tone and style that works comfortably for him. His speech was dishonest, anti-American manure, but at least it was plain manure, not the grandiose, over-the-top manure of previous speeches.
2005 State of the Union Speech Puzzles Observers
Americans and Anti-Americans
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report!