Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Onion afterparty

First things first. I counted 63 applause breaks. C-SPAN counted 61. This means that NCLitigator, with a guess of 59, wins the pool. I'd mention your name, but I don't know what it is. I'm also somewhat hampered in sending that certificate.

Also, here's my commentary on the State of the Union. I haven't seen any of CNN's certainly vapid commentary on the speech, so this is all my notes from during the speech. (I am, however, listening to Tim "Citizen" Kaine while I write this.)

Started with a lot of platitudes, and didn't really get substantial for a while. His call for civility and goodwill rang hollow, as did his setting up of straw-man arguments against his position. He threw out a lot of things we all can agree on - end of tyranny, etc. He brought up 9/11 briefly and referred to countries that had supported 9/11 seeking weapons of mass destruction. I didn't know Afghanistan was after WMD.

He claims that the administration has a "clear plan for victory" in Iraq. He laid out a few steps that are more comprehensive than what we've heard coming from the administration recently - but that's not saying much. He still failed to address the current problems Iraq is having, and overstated past victories in Iraq. One comment stood out: he claimed that he'll let military leaders rather than politicians make decisions on troop levels. But it's fairly common knowledge that his political wing made decisions on troop levels before the war, and overrode the military establishment. Ask Eric Shinseki.

Also, he couldn't resist the opportunity to characterize those who support a withdrawal of troops as defeatist. He refuses to honestly address the valid point that our presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good.

His Iran policy seems shaky and not well defined. He calls it a dictatorship in the first few minutes of the speech - a characterization that oversimplifies the situation in Iran. He refers to a "small clerical elite" that is causing all the problems, but it's the popularly elected Ahmadinejad that's a pain in the ass. And he still can't pronounce "nuclear" (though in fairness, neither can Mark Warner, who I saw on C-SPAN a couple of days ago). Fortunately, he didn't even bring up military action.

Kaine's response is going well, by the way. Better than Bush's speech.

Bush didn't address the criticisms of the Patriot Act or of the wiretapping. He barely touched on those. He also claimed that the Constitution gave him the right to wiretap without warrants. I must have missed that amendment. That section of the speech insulted my intelligence, quite frankly.

Then there were lots of platitudes about spreading democracy and encouraging economic growth and fighting disease throughout the world. I appreciated that he made it clear that democracies in the Middle East won't look like ours, but there was really nothing of substance here.

His description of our economy was well out of touch with our actual economy. He cited meaningless figures on economic growth but said nothing about how that growth was being distributed or what he would do to help job security. He pressed for the continuation of his disastrous tax policy. Most disturbingly, he brags about a budget that cuts funding for 140 programs. Which programs are these? They're "not accomplishing essential priorities," he says - but what does that mean? Is alleviating poverty an essential priority? Something tells me it's not. The Post's E.J. Dionne writes a wonderful commentary on Bush's proposed budget that I suggest reading.

I find it funny that he asked for the line-item veto, which is something Clinton asked for, received, and then had taken away by Bush's own Republican Party. Many of the current Republican members of Congress voted against the line-item veto when Clinton was in the White House. What will they do now?

He wandered into the Social Security minefield again. Oh, goody. A commission will be interesting - I wonder if he'll pay attention if it doesn't give him the exact result he's looking for. Either way, the Democratic interruption was awesome.

He said it was the government's job to ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care. That's good. He says we're already accomplishing that. Now I wonder what planet he's living on. He pushes health savings accounts, which will help very little among the poor, especially if he keeps cutting Medicaid. He pushes malpractice reform, which will have very little overall effect on health care costs.

He talked about energy policy, and here's a rare moment when I actually found myself agreeing with the Dubmeister. He proposed an increase in renewable energy research funding from the DOE and tax credits for alternative energy research. I honestly like this idea, and not just because I want to do research in renewable energy someday. Also, he didn't mention ANWR at all. I'm amazed at that. Doubling research dollars for basic scientists is a good idea too. I appreciated the shoutout to nanotechnology, even though I seriously doubt Bush could tell you what nanotechnology was.

I found myself agreeing with him on education as well. He wants to improve math and science education, which is a worthwhile goal. Improving the AP program helps. One wonders how this meshes with his ridiculous support for unintelligent design. Also, during his all-too-brief acknowledgment of the existence of poverty, he talked about making sure everyone graduates with job skills. This is a noble ideal, though he produced no substance to accompany it.

His brief shout-out to the culture wars was a quixotic, pointless one that completely interrupted the flow of his speech. He tried to take credit for the reduction in welfare rolls that occurred during the Clinton administration, as well as for the drops in teen pregnancy and crime that have taken place over the past decade. The plug for abstinence-only education was not appreciated, especially because it generally has the effect opposite from the one desired. But it was quixotic because he coupled his cultural fearmongering about gay marriage and stem-cell research (both were veiled, but not well) with a platitude about hopefulness and our independent cultural strength that undermined his whole point. If we're morally that strong of a people, why do we need moral legislation like gay marriage bans?

The corruption issue came up, but Bush said nothing of substance here. This surprised nobody.

The rest of the speech was short on substance and ideas and long on generalities. I don't care about the generalities.

And the Lincoln reference - WTF?

All in all, the foreign policy section and war on terror section added nothing new to the national debate on either subject, and indeed were only attempts to reinforce his own traditional talking points. There was no imagination, no attempts to address criticism, and no new directions or changes in direction on those fronts. On the domestic front, the energy and research initiatives and the education initiatives were welcome, substantial proposals. His health care ideas will do nothing to help our system - indeed, he does not even grasp the scope of this problem. Sadly but unsurprisingly, the issue of American poverty and the struggles of the working family were shamefully absent from this speech. He presented no new ideas for making the economy work for the middle and working classes, and seems to be in denial about the problems being faced by anyone in the bottom 50% of the income distribution. Even though I liked parts of it, overall I was disappointed. Bush's 2006 agenda looks to be a little bit better than his 2005 one - but not much.

Thoughts? Comments? Post here.


Ben said...

He asked for a line-item veto?

Actually, the Republicans didn't take that away from Clinton. The Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional. Which makes me wonder how Bush could possibly be asking for it now.

Think Progress has point-by-point rebuttals of most of the speech. (http://www.thinkprogress.org/) Some of the rebuttals are frankly cheap shots, like pointing out how Bush didn't agree with renewable energy in the past and tried to cut it. That doesn't mean increasing funding is a bad idea now. But much of it points out lies Bush is telling on the National Security front (i.e. with the illegal domestic spying.)

Mike said...

I disagree VEHEMENTLY with the line-item veto. It gives ENTIRELY too much power to the executive branch. And I ESPECIALLY don't want in George F.W. Bush's hands. (By the way, I capitalize adverbs now.)

I yelled at the TV when he said he had the Constitutional right to wiretap. Something along the lines of "Funny, I don't remember that in the Constitution. Oh right, I forget, I've read it, and you haven't."

The Social Security commission may not accomplish much, but at least it's an attempt to address the problem. I can find a modicum of respect for that.

In general, this was a better SotU than most, largely because I actually found some points I could agree with, even though many were meaningless platitudes. Still, absolutely no gains in terms of foreign policy. None.

Oh, and while Kaine wasn't nearly as bad as Gephardt speaking-wise, he does have that rhythmic manner of speaking that almost makes it sound like he's talking to a child. He made a lot of good points, many more than Bush (not surprisingly), but seemed too wooden. Not that I envy the guy having to speak in a private room with no podium - it just screamed discomfort.

Anonymous said...

hooray i won! i must confess that i didn't actually watch the speech -- it would just drive me crazy.

NC Litigator


Ben said...

So when Bush said he wanted to reduce dependance on foreign oil? Yeah, apparently he didn't mean it.


Maybe he had his fingers crossed.

Andy said...

As a rule, I never watch State of the Union speeches. For the same reason that I think the Weather Channel is a bit superfluous -- if I want to know what's going on with the weather, I walk outside. And likewise, if I want to know what's going with the "state of the Union", I, well, I guess I get up and go to work. If there's one thing I've learned from the these SotU thingies, it's that everyone can find some reason to bitch. If unemployment was 0.01%, those ten people without jobs would complain not enough's being done. If we were on 100% solar power, an oil baron in Texas with acres of oil fields would complain. I find it humorous that the difference between "SOTU" and "STFU" is only one letter and I think after a SOTU speech, we'd be best served to just STFU and do the best we can with what we have around us. But hey! I've got a job and a car, why complain?