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The Top 10 State of the Union Highlights

January 31, 2006

Faced with negative polls and a pessimistic American nation, President Bush's just completed 2006 State of the Union Address naturally focused on the theme of "the Hopeful Society." But like the stillborn "Ownership Society" vision before it, Bush's 2006 SOTU will be remembered not for its policy program, but for its partisan political purposes.
The top 10 highlights:
1. Demonize the Democrats
The President continued Karl Rove's 2006 electoral strategy to once again run on national security and brand the Democrats supposed "pre-9/11 mindset." There can be no mistaking the intent of his words in what will no doubt be one the most frequently quoted sections of the address:

Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

2. Bait the Base
While the President's speech may have been light on policy, it offered several large helpings of red meat to his conservative base. For starters, a smug Bush proudly introduced his new Supreme Court justices, including the newly minted Samuel Alito. Proclaiming "human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale," President Bush replayed his "culture of life" mantra of no abortion, no cloning and no embryonic stem cell research. "A hopeful society," Bush intoned, "has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life."
3. Cognitive Dissonance and the Bush Doctrine
As Perrspectives has argued before, in the wake of the quagmire in Iraq the supposed "Bush Doctrine" has come to embody three principles in the war against Al Qaeda: no safe havens, preemption and democracy promotion:

We seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it...Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror.

Sadly, no one seems to have told Hamas, which only days ago swept to victory in the Palestinian elections. Even worse, no one seems to have informed the President, who offered the reworked, post-facto justification for the invasion of Iraq. While Bush supporters such as Charles Krauthammer "support undemocratic measures undertaken to avert a far more anti-democratic outcome" as a means of addressing the "one man, one vote, one time" conundrum in the Middle East, the President himself seemed happily unaware.
4. Delicious Irony, Tehran Edition
Turning to Iran, President Bush described "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite." In the United States, that "small clerical elite" is also known as his base.
5. Bitch Slapped on Social Security
The highlight of the evening for Democrats was Bush's implosion over Social Security. As a determined Bush began, "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security," Democrats jumped to their feet and exploded in cheers, leaving an angry and embarrassed President Bush struggling to regain control, and his composure.
6. What Health Care Plan?
Leading up to the speech, analysts, commentators and pundits alike focused on health care reform as the centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda, the Social Security privatization plan of 2006. Despite extensive coverage in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other media outlets, the Bush speech contained little new about new tax incentives for health savings accounts and other measures designed to move risk and costs from employers to employees, young to old, healthy to sick, and rich to poor.
Bush's reticence may be linked to reports showing that consumer-driven health care schemes such as HSAs don't lower costs, but limit access to health care. Or it could be the disastrous start to his Medicare prescription drug plan or the devastating cuts to Medicaid now working their way through Congress.
The President, however, was cheered by his Republican colleagues with his call for malpractice reform:

And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice -- leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN -- I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.

On this point at least, Bush was consistent, echoing his words during campaign 2004:

Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country.

7. Energy Crisis?
Facing an American public unhappy with rising energy prices, oil man George W. Bush played the role of visionary on the topic of American dependence on foreign energy sources. Without irony, Bush declared "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." The President also set a laudable goal "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."
Sadly, his proposals including the rehashed (hydrogen fuel cells), the expected (coal) and the bizarre ("wood chips and stalks or switch grass"). Higher fuel efficiency standards, of course, would have been a nice touch.
8. Pandering to African-Americans
Apparently, no Bush State of the Union address is complete without the requisite pandering to African-Americans. In his 2005 SOTU address, Bush sought to boost the GOP's dismal performance among black voters with initiatives on HIV/AIDS, DNA evidence and gangs. In 2006, Bush offered an encore:

More than a million Americans live with HIV, and half of all AIDS cases occur among African-Americans...We will also lead a nationwide effort, working closely with African-American churches and faith-based groups.

The President might instead want to start with GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman, who told the NAACP last year that hate crime murder victim James Byrd "was a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice." Another suggestion for the President? Truly honor Coretta Scott King by blocking the new poll tax pushed by Republicans in Georgia to suppress black voter participation.
9. Gang Banger Laura Bush?
Another staple of the Dubya State of the Union is the assignment of one or more ill-defined family-focused initiatives to his wife Laura. This year, Laura is the point person for the "Helping America's Youth Initiative," which encourages "caring adults to get involved in the life of a child." Last year, the First Lady's task was to broker a peace deal between the Bloods and the Cripps. That, apparently, is still on her to do list.
10. Katrina and the Waves
Facing growing acrimony over revelations of his administration's bungling - and subsequent cover-up - of its response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush reached out to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency and stays at it until they're back on their feet...Yet, as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived. In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country.

For the Bush strategy behind this, see #8, "Pandering to African-Americans", above.
For the text of this and all previous Bush State of the Union addresses, visit the Perrspectives Document Library.

6 comments on “The Top 10 State of the Union Highlights”

  1. "4. Delicious Irony, Tehran Edition"
    Delicious, perhaps, when we've had 50 or so years to repair this asshole's mess ...
    "5. Bitch Slapped on Social Security
    The highlight of the evening for Democrats ..."
    Oh yeeaaaah. (Smokes cigarette.)
    "Another suggestion for the President? Truly honor Coretta Scott King by blocking the new poll tax pushed by Republicans in Georgia to suppress black voter participation."
    Good God. Or "Bad God" as the case may be.
    Personally, I was a bit delicously irony-ized by the line: "It is said we failed to connect the dots" on 9-11. It is said? Yeah, it's friggin' well SAID, ass!
    BTW, a wingnut's diary of the SOTU can be found at ...


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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