Once again, the president of the United States didn’t get the memo. Someone forgot to tell that guy he’s a lame duck and a failure.
It’s been a major shortcoming. George Bush has refused to acknowledge it time and time again. He was supposed to have figured it out when the American people elected a Democratic majority to Congress. It turns out he was the only one who noticed the asterisk next to that mandate for change.
George Bush was supposed to have become meaningless when his vice president’s aide was convicted for his role in a non-crime. He was supposed to have become irrelevant when his own party rejected his immigration reforms. He was supposed, a long time ago, to have recognized that America was beaten and despised in the world, an America bested by ragtag terrorists. He failed to do all these things.
And Monday night, again, George Bush walked out to face the United States Congress and us, the Americans, refusing to acknowledge what so many insist he must.
Instead, he talked about responsibility. A “shared responsibility” to us, the people. He said it like he actually expects this Congress to acknowledge that it owns some of that. But he was serious, as idealistic as someone who has always expected all of us to rise to the challenges and face the realities with which we’ve been presented. Even after all these years.
He showed that he knows this Congress only too well. Pushing his economic stimulous plan, he cautioned: “The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable.”
He mocked this Congress, or rather, a slight majority of it, by suggesting the IRS will happily take a check or money order from any American who chooses to pay more taxes. The champions of taxations were strangely silent and stayed in their seats for that quite reasonable suggestion.
He chided Congress, so addicted to earmarks snuck in when no one is looking: “…this time, if you send me a spending bill that does not cut the number of earmarks in half, I’ll send it back with my veto.”
Some people in American politics are talking about hope and change a year from now. Why wait? Bush talked about Hope Now, the alliance that is addressing the foreclosure crisis. He talked about reforming home financing institutions, health care, school financing and charity. He made the audacious demand, in time of war, that Congress should allow the security agencies of this nation a free hand in monitoring terrorist communications, even if those communications happen to pass through American cables, and that this accomplishment-challenged Congress should accomplish this by Friday.
The fact is, much of what the president talked about will not come to pass. This Congress has shown itself incapable of moving beyond pique. Incapable, in fact, of movement at all. America, though you might have been told it is a nation that rejects George Bush and everything he stands for, in fact is a nation closely divided against itself, quite adequately described by the divisions we see in Congress and between the Democratic leadership and the President. Even within the political camps there are sharp divisions, as illustrated by Bush’s push for immigration reform. (Even when Bush offered his opponents a bone, with his call for the reversal of greenhouse gas emissions, he included the excessively reasonable demand that all the world’s major economies be held to the same standard. Don’t expect to see that in your lifetime.)
You know that there are people in America who are claiming the mantle of hope and change for the better … as if we are not living in the nation that offers the best hope, and requires the least change of any in this world … people who, thinking these wars were something of his creation, would tell you George Bush has brought nothing but despair into this world.
That’s why it was necessary for him to begin enumerating the places in this world that have been freed from tyranny and, caught in terrible battle, still look to us to help them. That’s why it was necessary for him to point out that, though the battle may have turned against us, we are winning it now, and millions of people are relying on us.
“We will stay on the offensive, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to all our enemies,” he said. Everyone in the House stood and applaued. When he called on Congress to give our troops in the field a “solemn pledge … you will have all you need to protect our nation,” they all stood. But when he suggested then we should fully fund our troops … half stood.
And it was clear, if it hadn’t been before, that our national night out, the State of the Union speech, changed nothing. It never really does.
With less than a year to go, George Bush still doesn’t know he’s supposed to be a lame duck. This sorely underestimated president will continue, by force of will, to create conditions on the ground … in our domestic economy, in global trade, and on foreign soil where our soldiers are fighting … that are more likely to render the campaign chatter of the moment irrelevant than they are likely to make a lame duck out of this president.
Jules Crittenden blogs at Forward Movement.
The ‘State of the Union’ Is Never the Point
by Rick Moran
We Americans have never stood on ceremony. Our civic culture is nearly devoid of the kind of formality that one finds in European countries with many hundreds of years of tradition. Of course, the Founding Fathers were a little put off by monarchs and such at the time the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written so perhaps the dearth of formal spectacle can be understood in that context.
Besides the inaugural ceremony and the funeral of presidents, the most familiar of our civic traditions is the president’s State of the Union address. The ceremony arises from Article II Section 3 of the Constitution that requires the president “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
That codicil is honored in the breach – at least recently. Until Franklin Roosevelt’s first term, it wasn’t even called the “State of the Union” but rather “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.” And for nearly 120 years, it was never spoken out loud. The address was delivered to Congress in the form of a letter.
But spoken or written, the State of the Union has never actually given the true “state of the union.” That would be stupid. Instead, the president gives Congress the runaround while trying to get the American people to believe that things aren’t really that bad.
For example, in November of 1797 the United States was this close to going to war with England over the impressment of our merchant seamen into the British navy. A yellow fever epidemic had ravaged the east coast the previous summer almost canceling the Congress altogether. The Spanish still held military posts on American territory as did the British. And there was a lack of coinage in the country so that debtors’ prisons were filling up with people who couldn’t pay off their debts because they couldn’t get their hands on specie that lenders were willing to take.
But to John Adams, these were but minor problems almost solved if you read the whole speech and the state of the nation was just peachy:
Although I can not yet congratulate you on the reestablishment of peace in Europe and the restoration of security to the persons and properties of our citizens from injustice and violence at sea, we have, nevertheless, abundant cause of gratitude to the source of benevolence and influence for interior tranquillity and personal security, for propitious seasons, prosperous agriculture, productive fisheries, and general improvements, and, above all, for a rational spirit of civil and religious liberty and a calm but steady determination to support our sovereignty, as well as our moral and our religious principles, against all open and secret attacks.
There is a direct line from that address to the one given by Jimmy Carter in 1979 when the economy was in shambles, the Russians were on the march, and the American people were sinking into the doldrums of recession, inflation:
Militarily, politically, economically, and in spirit, the state of our Union is sound.
We are a great country, a strong country, a vital and dynamic country, and so we will remain.
We are a confident people and a hardworking people, a decent and a compassionate people, and so we will remain.
Well, if you say so Mr. President.
So it was with George Bush and his 7th official State of the Union address. (Note: Bush’s address in February of 2001 is not considered an “official” State of the Union.) There are “challenges” that must be faced to be sure but nothing a little Congressional pork and smoke and mirrors can’t fix.
The American people are not children although most politicians insist on treating them like 5 year olds. The president gave a speech that glossed over every economic problem that has Americans queasy and uncertain about the future while offering precious little except platitudes and pabulum:
To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future.
In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth. But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing. So last week, my Administration reached agreement with Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner on a robust growth package that includes tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment. The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable. This is a good agreement that will keep our economy growing and our people working. And this Congress must pass it as soon as possible.
Not a word about the dollar which is tanking in international markets. Nor did the president mention record trade deficits. He alluded to a “decline” in the housing market, forgetting to mention that for the first time in memory, housing values dropped. It also slipped his mind that around 1 1/2 million Americans are apt to lose their homes in the coming year regardless of what he, the Congress, or the entire federal government does about it.
Not a word about the banking crisis as most of our largest financial institutions, having lost billions of dollars, were forced to go overseas, hat in hand, begging for a bailout.
All of this may or may not lead to a recession. But it is equally uncertain whether throwing $130 billion dollars that we don’t have at people in the form of “rebates” will do anything except get most of the Congress re-elected.
Give it to us straight, Mr. President. We can take it, we’re adults. Alas, presidents are sensitive souls and the mean old Democrats might use his words as a political club against him. So we sit and suffer through useless formal addresses like the one Bush gave last night that have degenerated into presidential wish lists that Congress has little or no intention of ever addressing.
Even on foreign policy, the president played Pollyanna on more than one occasion. He declared Iraq and Afghanistan “free” countries. Not according to the widely respected Freedom House and their own list of nations that are free, “partly free,” and “not free.” Afghanistan barely makes the “partly free” listing while Iraq is with the “not free” group. Both nations have made much progress in recent years but to call them “free” is simply not true – not by any objective standard.
Then, the president moved on to the Middle East peace process and I’m sure a few jaws hit the floor in Jerusalem when they heard the president say:
Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security.
In Ramallah, the old terrorist Abbas must have looked around the room to make sure the president was talking about him. And one could imagine Prime Minister Olmert rolling his eyes when Bush talked about a separate Palestinian state as a “source of lasting security.”
Does Bush really believe that or was it just State of the Union fluff? Either way, we’re in trouble.
But Bush’s glossing over the reality of what is going on in America was at least not outright lying. For that, we only had to wait for the Democratic response to the president’s address given by Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.
She started off by promising to give “an American response.” She piously asked people to put party aside. She claimed to want “A national call to action” for the people of the heartland.
There is a chance Mr. President, in the next 357 Days, to get real results, and give the American people renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority. Working together, working hard, committing to results, we can get the job done.
In fact, over the last year, the Democratic majority in Congress has begun to move us in the right direction – with bipartisan action to strengthen our national security, raise the minimum wage, and reduce the costs of college loans.
These are encouraging first steps. But there is still more to be done.
And, so we ask you, Mr. President – will you join us? Let’s get to work.
A “non-partisan” speech praising the extraordinarily meager results of the Democratic controlled Congress? In fact, each of her talking points were Democratic agenda items – shameless huckstering for the Democratic party while trying to disguise her sanctimony as bi-partisanship. Even for a party that used an injured 12 year old boy for political purposes in selling the expansion of a health insurance program, this was pretty low.
In the audience last night were both Democratic party frontrunners for the presidential nomination. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama eyed the podium where the president was speaking in stony silence. What could they have been thinking? Perhaps they were mentally giving the speech the way that they would have delivered it. Perhaps they were telling themselves what they would do differently.
One thing is certain. Whether a Republican or Democrat mounts that dais next year at this time, the challenges facing us today will still be with us. Some of them may have improved over time. Others almost certainly will have gotten worse. It would be extremely refreshing if whoever stands before the people’s representatives next year invites the American people to hear the true state of the union and not the manufactured fairy tale to which we’ve become accustomed.