State of the Union Speech Puzzles Observers
|February 3, 2005||Posted by Hanno T. Beck under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
State of the Union
America Deserves Candor, Not ‘Spin’
On February 2, 2005, Bush gave a “State of the Union” speech. Here is The Progress Report’s reaction.
by Hanno T. Beck
A “state of the union” speech is delivered once a year. The speech should touch on the biggest topics of concern to Americans, and the president should outline his plans for the coming year.
It’s a special speech, and so we can expect it to be well written by well-paid writers, and heavily rehearsed.
But tonight, something went wrong. Bush’s speech was only a 10-minute commercial for one policy proposal, followed by some 48 minutes of weird, disconnected, rambling, disoriented paragraphs that appear to have been selected in random order.
Let’s review some top issues of concern to Americans.
- (1) Wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush talked about them in the propagandistic ways that you might expect — referring to our opponents in Iraq as “terrorists” without saying exactly how many of the thousands of Iraqi women and children that have been killed he seriously considers to have been terrorists. But tonight’s audience expected news, and there was none. No new policy initiatives, no proposed timetable for ending the wars.
(2) The federal budget deficit. Bush said he would like to cut the deficit in half by the year 2009, which is something that he has been saying for quite a while. No news.
I suppose we should perhaps be happy that he bothered to mention those two topics at all, because on several others, Bush was completely silent:
(3) The declining value of the U.S. dollar versus the Euro and other currencies. Not a word.
(4) Vote fraud and voting rights “irregularities” during the U.S. presidential election. Not a word.
(5) The tsunami that has caused death and destruction in so many places in Asia. Not a word.
(6) Torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. prisons. Not a word.
How can you give a serious annual speech without even mentioning such things? Here at The Progress Report we have no choice but to continue what has become a tradition of charting some items of interest: Number of Times That Bush Mentioned Osama bin Laden in a Speech2003 State of the Union Address0 2004 State of the Union Address0 2005 State of the Union Address0
And as for our 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 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 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
Plus, we were treated to one nearly exact rerun from last year’s State of the Union — I suppose a page from 2004 got stuck into this year’s speech by accident — concerning health care. 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 vaguely suggested that some cheap clinics be built for those who cannot afford the good stuff, and meanwhile to help doctors and hospitals 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. He called it “protecting” corporations from “frivolous lawsuits” but was unable to cite any statistics showing this to be a problem. This would appear to be the Republican panacea — no matter what the problem is, just transfer more money from taxpayers to corporations, and transfer liability from corporations to the taxpayers, and the world will just sparkle with happiness!
For those whose pensions were stolen by Enron, and any other people who might believe that corporations already have more special privileges than they deserve, there was no breakthrough tonight:
Number of Times That Bush Mentioned Corporate Accountability or Enron in a Speech2003 State of the Union Address0 2004 State of the Union Address0 2005 State of the Union Address0
So what exactly did Bush manage to say? He spoke about the Social Security program in the U.S., and in that one place in his entire speech where he offered details, they were false. One of the numbers that he cited, that I think may be accurate, is a projection that indicates by the year 2033, the Social Security system may be paying out about $300 billion more each year than it takes in. This was named by Bush as a terrible disaster, something to fear. (Currently the system takes in far more than it pays out.) So perhaps someone can answer this question — why is it that running a $300 billion deficit is terrible in 2033, but running a $500 billion deficit in federal spending is perfectly all right for Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005?
Suppose the U.S. government continues to run deficits of $500 billion per year. How many years until it’s bankrupt? Could we last until 2010? 2020? Bush does not say. We’re not supposed to look at that deficit. Instead, worry about the possible future deficit in Social Security for the year 2033. Focus only on that!
No one can explain why the prospect of Social Security possibly running a big deficit 28 years from now is supposed to be so much scarier than the far larger budget deficits going on right now.
It is fine with me if people want to study the Social Security system with the aim of improving it. That sounds like a good activity. But let’s be fair and open about it. We need to look at all the facts, not just the Republican story and the Democrat story. Bush is playing politics with numbers that reflect people’s retirement security, and that is petty, not presidential. His biggest mistake of the night, that drew shouts and corrections from the audience, is a claim that has long ago been shown false — the one that says by the year 2042, the Social Security system will be “bankrupt.” That is not so, and indeed if left unchanged the system will at that time be funded sufficiently to pay out considerably more each year than it does today. Not enough — but a far cry from Bush’s false phrase “exhausted and bankrupt.”
If Bush could cite some federal programs that were popular, were doing their job, and yet were stopped only due to insufficient money, that would be interesting. Meanwhile he is only fear-mongering.
Perhaps the most ironic Bush quote was his claimed desire to “build a better world for our children and grandchildren” — under Bush’s presidency, baby taxes (called “deficit spending”) have risen more than at any other time in U.S. history. Baby taxes are the most cowardly of all taxes, and no American who thinks it over would support them.
After his ten-minute gush about Social Security, Bush left the ranch. In retrospect, this would have been the best time to end the speech. People would have said “gosh, how brief!” but he would have succeeded in focusing more attention on Social Security. Instead, Bush’s mouth, and perhaps his mind, went on a weird glide across all sorts of topics. Medical research is nice. HIV is bad. Homeland security is good. Syria and Iran are bad. I counted 18 of these little squibs. Perhaps Bush accidentally picked up and read a set of rough notes for his speech, instead of the final draft, because any speechwriter would have assembled those odd items into some sort of integrated, systematic structure. Instead we got aimless ramblings. And in nearly every case, no policy proposals.
One of the stranger items was Bush’s suggestion that we need a big new initiative to keep young people out of gangs. That’s a worthy goal, but how did it manage to beat the combined power of the tsunami, Osama bin Laden, torture, vote fraud, and the entire continent of South America, to win a few seconds of mention in the speech?
Let us note one other point about Bush’s delivery. Bush’s previous “State of the Union” speeches drew a lot of attention for their Biblical references and religious-sounding talk, and Bush appeared in many political cartoons imagining himself to be Jesus. This year, there was none of that. I mean none, by golly. What do you make of that? It is possible that Bush’s speechwriters simply decided against that type of rhetoric, realizing that it can only be used for a while before sounding hollow. Or was some other factor in play here? If the religion-talk comes back in even-numbered years, we will know that it is merely a tool for securing campaign contributions from zealots; time will tell.
What conclusions can we draw? Other than recommending a new, fresh speechwriter or two for Bush, I suggest these points:
- Some politicians want to dismantle the Social Security program and they plan to start this year, in small ways. This is going to be a big issue and it won’t go away without a fight. Please study the facts but be very suspicious of political sources. The only changes we need are ones that are good for America, not good for getting somebody re-elected. Empower yourself with facts.
- When a powerful person ignores a topic, ask why. Why were the U.S. dollar, the budget deficit, tsunami, health care, unemployment, poverty, corruption, given little or no mention in Bush’s speech? Never let a politician, nor the mainstream wimpmedia, decide for you what is important. Evaluate topics on your own, and learn more about the issues that are of concern to you. Make sure that you set the agenda or else you will be forced to endure someone else’s agenda over and over.
Tonight’s speech was not about the state of the union. It was about attacking Social Security and praising America — while ignoring everything else. Once again, Americans deserved better.
What’s your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report!