I've decided to try to blog about tonight’s State of the Union as it happens. As a preliminary point, let me quote Entertainment Weekly’s (February 1, 2008) preview of the State of the Union: "Light at the end of the tunnel! Still, it’s a tunnel."
(Note that I took notes as I watched, but I've gone back through my notes to make my thoughts readable and meaningful; thus, this is only a "sorta-live" blog.)State of the Union (President George W. Bush):
Here we go. The President has been introduced to thunderous (well, at least reasonably loud) applause and a standing ovation. I've always wondered if this is a moment to be proud of or not. On one hand, it shows the entire Congress coming together and honoring the President. Think how different that is from much of the rest of the world. On the other hand, think of the hypocrisy involved as people cheer a President they fundamentally disagree with, and in many cases, despise, because they want to be sure to be seen as patriotic. I guess at the end of the day (night?), I like the idea of applauding the office, even if you're not applauding the man.
Barack Obama standing and chatting with his new biggest supporter, Ted Kennedy. Interesting. (For those who didn't follow today's news, Kennedy endorsed Obama earlier today.)
President Bush hands envelopes (I assume that they contain copies of his speech) to Vice President Cheney and Speaker Pelosi, but then has to switch which envelope he’s giving to whom. Why?
President Bush comments about "hard decisions about peace and war" and the need for "vigorous debate". Too bad the debate about whether to go to war in the first place wasn't based on good, solid evidence.
President Bush claims to recognize that politicians are sent to Washington to do the "people’s business". I wish that I could believe that he included himself in this (and not just Congress). But the way that the administration has supported certain industries and companies (can anyone say Haliburton and the energy industry), not to mention how he seems to think that he can ignore laws that he doesn't like, makes me think that this high-minded statement was addressed only at Congress.
President Bush says that the parties can "compete for votes and cooperate at the same time". Another good sentiment; too bad he hasn't used his soapbox to preach this in the past. Remember, this was the man who claimed that he would be a "uniter, not a divider", yet just listen to the way he talks about his political opponents.
President Bush acknowledges "concern about our economic future". Why does it feel like he just noticed that there might be a smidgen of a problem?
President Bush calls for Congress not to load pork into the economic stimulus package. Good idea; however, we need to remember that pork to one person may be a vitally needed component of economic development to another (would that be bacon or ham?). I'm against silly earmarks as much as the next guy, but we just need to be careful about lumping the bad with the good.
President Bush call letting "tax relief" expire a type of tax increase. His attempt at humor (the IRS accepts checks and money orders) was clearly aimed at Bill Clinton but was misplaced; the people who need the tax breaks aren't getting the help and relief that they need. Instead, we keep spending more and giving unnecessary tax breaks to those most able to whether economic slowdowns. I note that when President Bush calls on Congress to "make tax relief permanent" half of the room stays firmly seated.
President Bush threatens to veto any bill that raises taxes. OK. So are we cutting war funding to pay for domestic programs and tax cuts?
President Bush's budget will suggest cutting 150 programs with a surplus by 2012. I note that he didn't remind anyone that when he took office, we had a surplus. Nor does he remind anyone that with his proposed budget, we won't see a surplus until the end of the next President's term. In other words, what President Bush is really doing is putting off the hard work for the next President and next Congress.
President Bush makes some good points about earmarks (especially the lack of debate and vote on some). Again, he threatens to veto any earmarks. The problem is, some earmarks are actually good. Perhaps he should review each earmark before he vetoes a bill and tell Congress which particular earmarks he objects to. Even better would be a law that requires each funding request to be voted on separately from all others, so that only the "best" earmarks would make it through the process.
President Bush says that he will direct Executive Branch agencies to ignore earmarks that were not voted on. I see. Apparently, the Executive Branch now has the power to ignore Congress when the President doesn't like the Congressional procedures under which a bill was passed (and which the President signed). Another example of President Bush failing to understand the proper role of each branch (if he doesn't think that a bill was properly passed, he shouldn't sign it or he should take it to the Judicial Branch for resolution). But, acting in that manner would be the responsible, Presidential way to do things, and time after time, this President prefers to act as if he is the "Dictator-in-Chief".
The call to help the mortgage crisis sounds good, but most people won’t understand what he’s asking for. But, at least he can say that "I proposed something to help".
Why does Senator Clinton have a sour look on her face when President Bush mentions the idea of health care that is affordable to all?
President Bush wants people and doctors to make medical decisions? Laudable. But why not take power away from insurance companies? Why not allow the government to negotiate with drug companies? Why not end support for laws that allow the government to come between a patient and doctor on medical decisions like abortion? In other words, he wants the government to stay out of the doctor-patient relationship ... except when he doesn't.
No Child Left Behind has caused test scores to go up. Are test scores really the way to gauge success? Does he plan to fund NCLB? He wants scholarships to let poor children attend private (mostly faith-based) schools. That raises all sorts of Constitutional problems, not to mention a further eroding of the public school system. Then, President Bush says that he wants $300,000,000 for this. Where exactly is that money coming from? Remember, he said that he would veto any tax increase. Perhaps we should spend some money to fix schools and hire more teachers (at a higher salary, but with associated performance standards), instead of sending kids to faith-based schools. Remember that a faith-based school, unlike a public school, can pick and choose which students to admit; thus, the best students will get the scholarships and private education, while the deteriorating public schools are left to educate the worst performing kids. Which means that test scores will erode further, thus continuing the downward spiral.
Is the whole "free trade with Columbia" and "democracy leads to a better life" aimed at Hugo Chavez?
President Bush wants us to further reduce dependence on oil and calls for more clean coal. What about other types of clean energy?
He did it (I knew he couldn't make it through the speech without doing it). OK. Here is one my simple rules: You cannot be President of the United States of America if you cannot pronounce the word "nuclear". Mr. President: You went to Yale, you owned a baseball team, you've been a governor, your dad was President, and you've President for 7 years. Have you not noticed that there is no "u" between the "nuc" and the "lear"?
The President mentioned lots of treaties and agreements about the environment, but I never heard him mention the Kyoto protocol.
Did President Bush just acknowledge global climate change? Does he now admit that global warming is real? I hope that he sends a memo to the naysayers in his party. Maybe he'll ask Al Gore to give them a PowerPoint presentation.
President Bush wants us to trust the skill of scientists. But doesn't he ignore scientists with whom he disagrees? He forced the EPA to revise a global warming report because he disagreed with its conclusions. He also wants more money for physical sciences research. Great. Where’s that money coming from? (Once again, remember that he is vetoing any tax increases.)
President Bush next says that we should respect moral boundaries in scientific research. Great. Whose morals? We lost years of research on embryonic stem cells waiting for the breakthrough he talked about. So he upheld his morals; but many others held a different moral view on this. What happened to trusting the skills of scientists? President Bush also claims that all life should be "treated with the dignity it deserves". Why do anti-abortion advocates talk about respecting the dignity of life when addressing an embryo or fetus, but ignore the dignity of life for the living, especially children, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the terminally ill. I've never understood why a fetus should be entitled to more dignity than a terminally ill patient in excruciating pain. President Bush also says that he doesn't want cloning. That sounds easy, but what about tissue or cell cloning (as opposed to an actual human). What would be wrong with finding a way to clone kidneys or eyes or hearts?
According to President Bush, the Constitution "means what it says" and judges should follow the "letter of law, not the whim of a gavel." Yikes. I have way too many things that I could say about that one, not the least of which would be that this President owes his very presidency to the "whim of a gavel..." He also complains about his judicial nominees being delayed. I don't recall him complaining when President Clinton's nominees were being delayed. Nor do I see President Bush trying to pick nominees that might be more acceptable to the broad spectrum of society instead of ideologues (but then he never has understood that whole separation of powers concept). I note that even President Bush appeared to chuckle at the facial expressions of the Democrats as President Bush made these last points.
President Bush does something smart by asking Congress to come up with proposals to fix broken entitlement programs. I was worried he was going to tell them to pass his proposals that failed before.
President Bush also calls for a lawful way for foreign workers to come and work. Good idea. Too bad his own party is against him on this one. This was followed by his best moment of the night when he said that we must find a "sensible and humane way" to deal with those here illegally and that we must treat illegals in accordance with our highest ideals. I hope that people on all sides of the immigration debate will at least acknowledge this fundamental truth as we work through how best to resolve the immigration issue. I wish that the last 7 years would have seen more of this version of President Bush.
According to President Bush, our foreign policy is based on the notion that "if given a chance, people will choose freedom and peace". Like Iraq? The Palestinian Authority? Gaza? Venezuela? The problem is that people may choose freedom, but may not choose either peace or something that we agree with. Not that I'm saying that freedom or democracy are bad, but I'm not sure that his simplification of the basis of our foreign policy makes sense.
President Bush says that since 9/11 we’ve taken the fight to terrorists. While that may be true (or may have been true) in Afghanistan, it is not a justification for the war in Iraq. Al-Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before we showed up. By the way, have we caught Osama Bin Ladin yet? We've dropped the ball there, haven’t we? But we have lost plenty of soldiers in Kirkuk and Tikrit and Sadr City.
When President Bush discussed the "defining ideological struggle" of the 21st century he thankfully included the Palestinian territories among those places with political terror.
While Afghanistan may not be a safe haven for Al-Qaeda anymore, it appears that they may have just moved next door to Pakistan.
And now we finally come to Iraq. President Bush makes it sound like things are great there.
President Bush extends the "gratitude of the nation" to those serving. Absolutely. Too bad Republicans don’t understand that a true patriot can support the troops without supporting the war itself.
President Bush credits the surge for the reduction in violence. I'm sorry, but I'm just not convinced.
Are the members of Congress applauding President Bush's statement that terrorists "will be defeated" or his statement that the "surge is working"? I suspect that you would get a different answer depending on which side of the aisle the answer was given from.
Next President Bush describes a military policy of "return on success". He makes it sound like the troops are coming home because they've won. I thought that the plan for the surge was to bring troop levels down by this spring because the military couldn't sustain that level for so long. This is one of those moments where I really felt like the President was not being candid or was just pandering.
President Bush next tells the military that they will have "all you need to protect our nation". I agree with the sentiment. But let’s protect our nation; not Iraqis who don’t want us there. Let's be sure that when we send our troops into harm's way, we know why and we have fully thought through the consequences. Let's be sure that those troops are properly equipped and trained. Let's be sure that they are not being asked to serve tours in excess of what the military says is wise. The President's call to "fully fund troops" sounds great, but it is such a loaded phrase. What exactly does that mean? Does that include fully funding the VA?
President Bush says that further troop draw downs will be based on the recommendations of commanders. However, if I recall, last time that the general in charge of Iraq articulated a strategy that the President didn't like, that general was "reassigned".
President Bush notes the process of reconciliation in Iraq and says that the Iraqi people are taking control of their future. But then he says that a free Iraq denies a safe haven to Al-Qaeda. First, Al-Qaeda wasn't looking at Iraq as a safe haven before the war. Second, why do we necessarily think that a "free" Iraq won't align itself with Al-Qaeda? The Palestinians continue to ally themselves with terror. Venezuela appears to be cozying up to Iran. Freedom does not necessarily mean stability; nor are all free countries our friends.
Senator Luger looks pleased. Maybe it's just because he knows the speech is almost over...
President Bush says that he won’t rest until the enemy has been defeated. So let’s go get Osama Bin Ladin. Let’s go after Wahhabi extremists and make Saudi Arabia understand that they can't have it both ways.
President Bush also claims that Mahmoud Abbas recognizes that confronting terror is the key to peace. Does he really? While Abbas may give lip service to this idea, it doesn't appear as if his acts really back that up. President Bush says that he hopes to see a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace. Let’s hope that President Bush is able to achieve some of the success so many others have tried, but failed, to attain.
President Bush claims that Iran continues to develop the ability to enrich uranium. Is he threatening Iran? I like the sound of what he said, but I'm concerned about engaging in yet another war without all of the facts...
President Bush wants us to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. I like the "lawful" part. His administration has been very good about following that goal with policies like illegal wiretapping, holding American citizens as "enemy combatants" without the benefit of a lawyer or hearing, destroying e-mails, documents, and video tapes of interrogations, and "outing" an undercover CIA operative. Noble words that have not been backed up by noble deeds.
President Bush complains about the revised FISA provisions ending on February 1. I don’t believe that the ability to track terrorists is weakened; the government can still get a warrant after the fact. In the 20+ years that the FISA court has existed, only minuscule fraction of warrant requests were turned down. What is so hard about asking a Court to issue a warrant, especially when the law gives the government a grace period to ask for the warrant after the wiretapping has been initiated?
Why should companies that acted badly get a free ride? The idea of retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that gave up private information without forcing the government to comply with the law is simply wrong.
President Bush says that the United States opposes genocide in Sudan. Terrific. So do something! He also says that the United States supports freedom for lots of countries. Do something! Words or hand slaps at the United Nations are not enough, especially when people are dying in the deserts of Sudan, the streets of Myanmar, the slums of Kenya, or the jungles of Congo. We may not be the world's police force, but we should be able to pressure our friends into taking on a share of the load to insure that genocide does not reoccur.
President Bush notes that half of the world’s food aid comes from US. Very good. But why don't we also work to end hunger in America! He wants to cut malaria in Africa. Great! Why don't we make health care more affordable in the US? We'll help Africans with drugs for malaria, while Americans have to re-import drugs. What is wrong with that picture? President Bush wants to spend $30,000,000,000 (that's Thirty Billion Dollars) to fit HIV/AIDS. Great! But let’s stop restricting the recipients of that money to those NGOs who don’t mention abortion or give out condoms.
President Bush wants to reform the VA to meet the needs of the new war. Does this mean that soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder will finally be treated fairly and not kicked out of the military with a loss of benefits? NPR has done a brilliant series on this issue over the last few months.
President Bush wants to expand childcare for military families. Great. Why don't we do something similar for the working class Americans who can barely afford to make ends meet.
President Bush next offers one of those small, but great ideas that Congress could and should adopt immediately: Allowing soldiers to transfer their education benefits to their spouse or children. Offhand, I cannot see any downside to this proposal.
Was it just me, or did the President have an odd smirk on his face when he mentioned that the "nation honors" our soldiers?
President Bush finished with a very high-minded discussion of the founding of our country. It was an interesting way to draw to a close. Let’s hope both President Bush and Congress (both parties) take to heart the idea of doing the "people’s business".
I mostly ignored what the pundits were saying following President Bush's speech, but two things did stand out:
- One commentator noted that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton had not shaken hands all night, even though seated near each other.
- Another commentantor noted that more Democrats than Republicans stood to applaud President Bush's calls for immigration reform.
Democratic Response (by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius)
Is it just me, or is she wearing a rather low-cut top. Interesting. Is she trying to be the Anti-Hilary? Maybe I'm just getting tired and slap-happy.
Gov. Sebelius suggests that most Americans are not as divided as politicians suggest and that we roll our eyes at what the pundits talk about. Nice. I also liked her claim to be offering an "American response" instead of a partisan response. We’ll see. She does seem to have a facility for turning a good political phrase or soundbyte, to-wit: "wake up call to Washington" and "time is running out to meet our challenges and solve our problems".
Gov. Sebelius says that a temporary economic fix isn’t enough. She wants Congress and the President to make domestic challenges "top priority".
Gov. Sebelius directly calls for the passage of CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) which was previously vetoed by President Bush. Let's see if the Republicans will finally stand up and override the veto (recall that the bill received bipartisan support).
Gov. Sebelius seems to be asking President Bush to become an environmentalist. Somehow, I just don't see a post-White House George Bush doing PowerPoint presentations with Al Gore.
I particularly liked her call to fight a "more effective war on terror".
Gov. Sebelius also argues that we can’t meet challenges at home (for example, a lack of National Guard troops to help a tornado-ravaged Kansas city) because our resources are committed elsewhere. She also rightly notes that we need to rebuild our standing in the world. After 9/11, the US was very highly admired. Now, 6+ years leater, President Bush's policies seem to have squandered that good will.
Another good soundbyte: "No more patience with divisive politics."
Interesting that on the day that Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama, Gov. Sebelius closes by harkening back to JFK when she said that she is tired of leaders who ask nothing of us instead of asking what we can do for our country. Her final idea of focussing on the "common good" should also resonate. But, then, what exactly is the common good?
Well, that's it. I can't say that either speech was particularly interesting, but then an unpopular, lame duck President isn't really in a position to offer many new, big ideas. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the State of the Union address. To me, it is an annual tradition, a sort of rite of citizenship.