Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thoughts on the State of the Union Address

Just a few thoughts on President Bush's State of the Union address:

I was pleased to hear the argument against isolationism, both in terms of the war on terror and in economic terms. It's sad that it took over two years for the president to be able to clearly explain the rationale for the war in Iraq, which I think he did quite well in an Oval Office speech a back in December.

The calls for civility and bipartisanship rang hollow to me. After the last five years in office, the president and the Republican party in general have consistently sidelined the Democrats. Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff went to certainly unethical and in all likelihood illegal lengths to consolidate power. And Karl Rove, the political genius who wins at all cost, is still the top political advisor. So why the sudden effort at bipartisan comity? I can't help but think it's some kind of Rovian trick. I don't trust Rove and I don't trust that many people in the GOP leadership. If it were John McCain or Orrin Hatch or even Newt Gingrich, I would be more inclined to believe it.

My guess is that Rove is trying to drive home to the public that the Democrats don't want to participate in governing by feigning bipartisan spirit while ramming legislation down the Democrats throats. When the Democrats object and refuse to go along with the charade, then they're the ones acting partisan. The CBS commentators bought right in to this, saying how Bush had extended an olive branch and it was up to the Democrats to decide whether to take it.

I still think the best thing the Democrats could do is to pick some issues of their own, NOT the ones the President is focusing on, and make clearly thought out, detailed and very moderate proposals. Be the first to initiate the discussion. Try to win the center and win over moderate Republican politicians and voters. Most likely the proposals will fail, but at least they can build up a record over time of producing sound, moderate ideas that get sunk by the extreme conservatives in the Republican party. Such a strategy could help in the next few rounds of elections. At least it should certainly beat just being the party of "NO!". (See my comment on Cohen's blog for more on this topic.)

I was surprised that the President said we are "addicted to oil." That's not a statement one would have expected from a Republican president just a short time ago, when people like Vice President Cheney were saying that conservation is a virtue. Now, I don't know how much teeth the president's proposal will have, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Whoever can come up with a good proposal for home-grown energy source, through better solar and wind technology as well as biomass as the president suggested, could come up with a winner. Farmers would be delighted if demand for crops skyrocketed because they became a fuel source. And we could tell the Middle East to screw off. We'd be helping address global warming. There's nothing to lose.

I didn't buy any of the budget cuts or tax cut talk. He said people didn't expect temporary tax cuts to end. Um, isn't that why they're called temporary? And I think we have to get the deficit under control. Balancing the budget and paying down the debt was one of Bill Clinton's greatest achievements and one that should have been celebrated and continued by the Republicans who used to talk about fiscal responsibility.

I think I agree with the president on the guest worker program. As much as we want to delude ourselves, our economy depends on illegal immigrants who build and maintain a huge number of our buildings and facilities. We can't and shouldn't seal off the border, but instead we should make it easy and legal for people to contribute to the economy.

It was striking how little the president said about God or faith. He only used the word "God" twice, saying "God-given dignity" and "God bless America". Faith-based groups were mentioned just once, in reference to helping reduce AIDS in the African-American community. Only brief mention was made to gay marriage in reference to judicial activism. Abortion was only mentioned by reporting it to be happening less than it did thirty years ago, with abstinence education being listed as a contributing reason. But other than that, the hard-core Christian bloc of the GOP got nothing. I can't say I'm surprised, though. I've believed since before the last election that the Republican Party has been using Christian conservatives for their votes and money, but have had no intention to actually given them any substantial policy programs in return. Can you name one piece of major legislation or executive action that has been a goal of the Christian Right? Other than pushing out sex education with abstinence education, I can't think of anything. Remember the big push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

Overall, good speech, especially by Bush standards. I'm skeptical about how much effort will actually be put into a lot of the policy initiatives and I don't trust his words about bipartisanship but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. You never know what you'll get out of a president who doesn't have to run for office again, especially when he doesn't have an heir apparent.


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