Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:35 AM
Alas, this backslapping reception was inspired more by universal pity than admiration. Because everyone clearly felt sorry for this man whose familiar swagger down the aisle has been reduced to a veritable walking of the plank by record-low poll numbers and a consensus in American politics that Bush has become so irrelevant that there’s no need to get worked up to support or oppose anything he says. Therefore, his address gave Republicans an auspicious opportunity to pretend like they’re not the sore losers they are, and Democrats an equal opportunity to pretend like they are the magnanimous winners they’re not.
Beyond this, the only other notable thing about Bush address was the pride he took in uttering these truly historic words:
I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own, as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: “Madam Speaker.”
However, in case you think my cynicism is unwarranted, may I remind you that the most memorable words he said last year were that:
…we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.
He then went on to list myriad ways of developing alternative sources of energy and made bold promises about making America “energy independent by 2025”. Yet not only is America as dependent, if not more so, on foreign oil today as it was a year ago; but one could be forgiven the impression that last night was the first time Bush was addressing the dire implications of America’s dependence on foreign oil. In fact, he has delivered almost the same lines about the imperatives of energy independence in all of his previous six addresses….
Given that, I won’t even bother deconstructing his Emperor-wears-no-clothes words about the war in Iraq (and his war on terror). After all, my cynicism in this regard is surpassed only by that of almost all of those who stood in Congress and applauded him heartily knowing full well that they intend to do all they can to strip him of what little political authority he retains to pursue his “new way forward” in Iraq.
Meanwhile, even as a theatrical exercise, I got the impression that Bush was just phoning this one in: he seemed beleaguered, if not defeated, and there was little cadence or conviction in his delivery of the customary battery of progressive initiatives (from increasing health insurance coverage to reducing pork-belly earmarks). Admittedly, all presidents pad their addresses with feel-good proposals. And even the most popular presidents know that 95% of them will never be implemented. Therefore, this was clearly not the reason for Bush’s malaise.
Instead, Bush was painfully aware that on the most important initiative of his presidency, he has already lost the support of not only the vast majority of the American people, but also a significant majority of the members of the U.S. Congress. Nevertheless, here’s how he delivered his plaintive entreaty for them to support his “troop surge” to extricate American troops from the crosshairs of civil war in Iraq:
We went into this largely united – in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work.
Actually, there was one other moment of Bush’s speech that I thought was almost redemptive. In fact, it has become a standard part of the State of the Union that was inaugurated by Former President Ronald Reagan. And that is the recognition of ordinary American heroes. Because it was very heartwarming to see Bush honor a pretty inspiring group of people, including former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo who invested over $15 million to build a new hospital in the Congo, his African country of origin.
So, until the same time next year, when nothing will have changed for the good in Iraq, the only domestic initiative implemented will have been a meager and long-overdue increase in the minimum wage and the only thing on anyone’s mind listening to Bush will be: “I wonder who’ll be standing there next year…Hillary or Obama?”