State of the Union

Jon Stewart having basically said it all notwithstanding, here's my take on the speech.

1. The Iraq part really did sound good despite the fact that the bulk of it was pure fantasy. Someone worked hard on that and it was a very eloquent exposition of the whole theoretical Iraq case start to finish which will no doubt play well with people who want to believe it. It also made me come back to the kind of cynicism about Iraq that has been hard to keep straight in the face of confronting the war's legitimate moral questions. It's just hard not to see how politics didn't play a ginormous role in this war of 'choice.' September 11 made the Bush team realize that people really loved their boy when he was commander in chief and it's pretty hard to imagine that they didn't understand that his political success could be insured by keeping him at war. War, and the carte blanche given by September 11 were just such political gold, I don't see how they couldn't make it the centerpiece of their job to keep the president popular. I know its wrong or at least moot to talk about this, but the feeling is just so unavoidable. I mean, people are still grousing about Clinton sending a couple bombers to Kosovo in order to distract attention from Monica Lewinsky. Why can't we grouse about this more?

2. The domestic piece on the other hand, was really suprisingly weak. The last minute speech previews were all about how this address was going to focus on domestic issues and play down the Iraq stuff, in order to score some points on Bush's increasingly sour poll numbers on the economy, health care, etc. But it didn't happen. The the health care proposals were the most meaty section new policy-wise and he ran through them in about 5 minutes, with another 2 or 3 minutes to laud the Medicare drug bill and all of these policy proposals were numbers free. Then he threw a couple of really vague bones to the base about abstinence and forcing kids to get drug tested, the weirdo-steroids thing (also just a suggestion, no policy attached), the immigration proposal, and of course the obligatory permanent tax cut appeal.

Did people not do their homework? I'm just at a bit of a loss to understand why the domestic part was so weak. I really expected to get a laundry list of back from the dead domestic favorites all coated in faux statistics which liberal pundits would have to dissect for days. I don't want to speak too soon, but this seems like a major misjudgment, and very uncharacteristic of the Bush machine. I mean, what happened to the 'compassionate' juggernaut? The 'ownership' juggernaut? On the one hand, maybe they know what they're doing and decided it was silly to blow their hand when the news will have to turn to New Hampshire, thereby putting a half-life on any compassion points policies will get now. On the other hand, what if they really don't think its necessary? That they can rest on the tax cut laurels throughout the whole campaign? That's going to leave a lot of room for Dem candidates to gain ground on domestic policy. No doubt they MUST keep offering alternatives to Iraq and talk about homeland security with big vision ideas, and so on. But to the extent they can marginalize the foreign policy stuff which Bush must rely on for his legitimacy and offer exciting domestic programs, they should.

3. The Democratic response was sooooo wretched. I mean, OH MY GOD what were they thinking? PLEASE someone notice Kevin Drum's suggestion about getting good speakers and doing the response in a room with other human beings next time. And maybe they could be standing??? I guess I understand why in an off year the response is crappy--where's the momentum to draw on, just make a good showing on the points, so, um, perhaps all the people reading the text of the response later will be able to come to a sensible conclusion about the policy disagreements. But in an election year? When the democratic primary contest is nothing if not filled with a multitude of finely crafted rhetoric about why Bush sucks? We get Tom Daschle, looking like he's about to fall asleep in his big poorly lit chair, and his cospeaker, a creepy Robotress who apparently has no clue how to read off teleprompters and didn't take the time to practice? It's just embarrassing, and the kind of mistakes we cannot make. At least they had a bit with John Kerry, who, although strangely difficult to look at is at least personable. The alternative seems like such a no brainer, and so potentially effective, its just mindblowing that we got what we did. I mean, I couldn't even stay focused on it. He made the homeland security critique lines an absolute snooze. There was way too much poorly delivered math and her eyes made me really uncomfortable. Sheesh. No more of that, please for the love of god.


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