This year, some elements of the picture were different. The president, framed by Dick Cheney on one side as always, had Nancy Pelosi sitting in the spot typically occupied by Dennis Hastert. To his credit, Bush started his speech with the classy measure of saluting the new Democratic Majority, and Pelosi in particular. He also took a moment to honor a few ailing Congressmen.
That is, of course, well after the endless parade of Supreme Court Justices, Bush cabinet members and just about everyone else in government made way for the president's entrance, which included the usual, interminable fanfare. I half expected a reporter from E! to be there commenting on what everyone was wearing as they entered the chambers.
Honestly, I wish the TV coverage of these things would begin just as the president is taking the podium. Even then, we have a couple of standing ovations to wait through before we get to the main event.
Speaking of which, watching Bush work the crowd on his way through the chambers to the podium, I was reminded of a boxer making his way to the ring amidst throngs of cheering fans. This contender had already taken a beating before he arrived at the arena, though.
The man who says he doesn't pay attention to polls went into this speech with only about 1/4 of polled Americans approving of his job performance. The accuracy of polls is questionable, to be sure, but when the numbers are that bad, maybe it's time to start listening?
On his way in this year, Bush did not kiss his Republicant-lite pal, Joe Lieberman. Problems in the relationship? (And at no time during the evening did he give any love to his forgotten galpal Katrina, either.)
The speech proper started with Bush cruising through a bullet list of issues including healthcare, the budget, entitlements, earmarks, energy, immigration and education. Often, he used oblique language to state his aims, but judging by the level of applause, few lawmakers were fooled.
For example, when speaking of failing schools, Bush made reference to giving parents the option to choose other schools. Vouchers, anyone?
Bush spoke of medical liability reform, which is code for "If the doctor messes you up, just live with it, you ungrateful whiner." (Didn't Bush already get this passed a few years back as "tort reform?")
When talking of efforts toward energy independence for the US, Bush spoke of stepping up domestic oil production. Living on the Gulf of Mexico, I can tell you this: We don't want those oil rigs fouling our doorstep. Nor do many of us wish to see the white mountains of the ANWR turn black.
Bush spoke of improving economy standards for cars, though he doesn't seem ready to consider one of the best ways to do this: Demand better fuel efficiency from automakers.
He also echoed some of his words from last year as he spoke of using woodchips and grasses as sources of fuel. Brilliant! A hamster-based economy. Come to think of it, couldn't we harness the energy they create while running on those little exercise wheels? I think I am onto something here.
With regard to immigration, Bush stated that America is a melting pot, and that we should "welcome and assimmilate new arrivals." Careful, Mr. President, you risk further alienating your xenophobic base with that kind of talk. He also plugged his "guest worker program" again.
In pleading his case about the need for victory in Iraq, Bush sounded like a lover acknowledging he had cheated yet again but wanting another chance, and promising things will be "different this time." Many Americans are rightly skeptical; "Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice... we won't get fooled again."
Bush stated that he and his military commanders "weighed the options" and decided that a troop increase represents the best possibility for victory. He did not mention that several of those commanders disagreed with him and are now out of a job.
He said that, when it comes to the fight on terror, we are "rallying the world." But our Iraq efforts have alienated even some countries that we were friendly with, in addition to provoking those that were not receptive to our actions from the outset.
He expressed a desire to bring freedom to places like Cuba and Belarus, while leaving out offenders like Saudi Arabia (a brutal place where citizens are not permitted to practice any other faith but Islam) and Pakistan. You excuse bad behavior among your friends when it's to your benefit, I guess.
To beat this dead horse just one more time, I must point out that Bush again failed to acknowledge, in his admonitions about Iraq becoming a safe haven for "the killers" (if we leave), that he created the conditions for such a situation in that country. What would an admission achieve? Call it "integrity."
I never cease to be amazed at how any president can fit in the words "the state of the Union is strong" no matter how the situation really is, and do it with a straight face. Notably, Bush broke tradition and tacked it on at the very end of this speech. You can't not use it in there somewhere.
Similarly, Bush held acknowledgement of his special guests – another SOTU tradition – until the closing minutes. The presence of subway hero Wesley Autrey added some welcome levity to the proceedings, as he blew kisses and gave the thumbs-up to an adoring crowd. It reminded me a bit of Leno introducing his band director, whose name I do not know (I am well asleep by then), with Autrey giving the president (Leno) a couple "You da man(s)" back. In contrast, with their stiff, stuffy, old visages, many lawmakers at times looked embalmed.
Bush took his time on the way out of the chambers, signing autographs on both sides of the aisle. I imagine a quick look at eBay this morning would reveal a few instances of a "2007 State of the Union Official Program, signed by President Bush, mint condition" up for sale.
I decided to skip the Democratic response and go to bed. This is another SOTU tradition that could use a "reimagining." Responding to a speech you haven't yet heard doesn't make much sense. What would make sense is to have the televised response one week later, when the chosen representative could do a thoughtful, point-by-point critique of the SOTU. (Feel free to implement this idea any time, folks.) But I guess they just want to keep the momentum going.
So, there you have the state of the State of the Union.
PS: This is my last post for about a week, as I am moving to a new apartment. Toodles!