January 21, 2004

SOME PEOPLE have emailed asking me to write more about the State of the Union. I'm probably the wrong one to ask. As a general rule, I hate State of the Union addresses. The last two were different -- 2002 was close after 9/11, and 2003 was a lead-in to Iraq. Last night's, at least once you got past the war part at the beginning, was more typical: a bunch of domestic nostrums that for the most part were either mere gestures (steroids?) or things the federal government shouldn't be doing anyway (basically, everything about education).

I can't critique Bush's gay marriage proposal because I still can't figure out what he was saying. (I suspect that my confusion is fully intended). The federal government has no business telling states what their marriage laws ought to be. Of course, I basically favor gay marriage anyway -- though (and I guess it's possible that this is all Bush was saying, though I doubt it) I agree that it would be better to see it adopted by legislation than by judicial decision.

Well, like I said, I find run-of-the-mill State of the Union addresses pretty awful: smarmy, full of cliches and obvious efforts to tug at the heartstrings, well larded with pork and posturing. But, you know, they're not for me. Whenever I find myself grimacing at these, I'm reminded of a direct mail consultant who talked to the board of a nonprofit I used to run. He asked us if we liked the advertisements for porcelain collector plates. Everyone said no. "That's OK," he responded. "Those ads are aimed at people who like porcelain collector plates. You're not their target market." I'm pretty sure I'm not the target market for the State of the Union addresses, either, though I'm not sure who is. . . .

I'm utterly unimpressed with Bush's domestic spending program, but I'm not its target market, either. Nor, sadly, is there anywhere else to turn: According to the National Taxpayers' Union, the Democratic candidates are all worse. Fundamentally, there's not a big enough voter cohort in support of fiscal restraint. Like it or not (and I don't) the voters are pretty much getting what they want in terms of spending. That may or may not prove terrible for the country -- people have been doomsaying about deficits for pretty much my whole lifetime -- but there's no question in my mind that the money contributing to the budget-bloat would be better spent if it was still in the taxpayers' pockets. The only problem is that the taxpayers (or at least the voters, an overlapping but not fully contiguous set) don't seem to feel the same way.

UPDATE: This isn't exactly a Fisking of the State of the Union, but in places it comes pretty close: "I give you a D for your domestic agenda. Other than your tax cuts, you have accomplished little."

Meanwhile, if you missed it, here's a column by Victor Davis Hanson offering a more positive take on the foreign-relations part of the SOTU, which was clearly the better portion.