State of the Union '05

The blue-stained fingers held up singly or in "V for victory" symbols in the crowd were my favorite part of the festivities for George Bush's 2005 State of the Union speech last night. Elections in Ukraine, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and Iraq are indeed something to celebrate, even if our last election's results are proof enough that democracy doesn't always produce a salutory result.

Mr. Bush is on top of the world, a position which has always suited him. He's a real estate agent in a HUMMER, driving down the middle of the road, pointing out the new subdivisions and speeding up past the forgotten slums. 2.3 million new jobs last year, that's good. But we're still struggling to catch up to the employment numbers we had when he took office, let alone occupy all the new workers who've joined us.

He talks a good game, calling for "restraining the spending appetite of the federal government" after running the deficit from 0 to hundreds of billions on his watch. He thinks we could get down to half that by 2009, a surprisingly meager goal for the first big priority in his speech.

He drew plenty of bipartisan applause in his generic opening calls, but not from the Joint Chiefs of Staff up front. I like that; they have military discipline and don't just applaud on cue like everyone on the right side of the aisle.

As usual, there's the buzzword parade, and the identification of the damned: "Junk lawsuits," "Irresponsible class action and frivolous asbestos claims" (that's new—who's getting off the hook on asbestos?), "Comprehensive health-care agenda"—just like Hillary!—"AND medical liability reform." The funny thing is, his chances of making serious inroads into the power of attorneys are about as good as his chance of reining in spending: lukewarm at best.

"Four years of debate is enough," George says, so stop saying 'no' to what he wants. (I think of Nancy Reagan: just say no, no, no, no, and don't stop saying it, because the minute you do, they'll be back.) "All these proposals are essential," but "just the beginning of our duty."

Now for the big Social Security play: the program is "a great moral success," he says, praise being cheap for what's in the history books. "Headed toward bankruptcy" is the big lie, and he's drawing battle lines: 55 or older, you're all set. At not-quite-50, I could be among the hosed. People are living too much longer is the problem, sounds like. "13 years from now, in 2018, SS will be paying out more than it takes in" is his half-empty view. "SS will continue collecting more in tax payments than it pays out for more than a decade" is the half-full view, but he didn't say that.

"By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt" produced a good British murmur from the left. The "bankruptcy" lie; I paused the tape to take notes, and the Cheshire smile of Mr. Veep was there, floating, bizarre, one corner of his mouth turning up as the outraged half of Congress protested. Go ahead and complain, his smirk says, we're running the show.

Half the house stood up for his "not a small matter" punchline, and half the house (and those good old Joint Chiefs) sat on their hands. (Or are the Chiefs all Democrats?)

"All these ideas are on the table" didn't mention privatization, or the not-yet-pejorative "private accounts": "Permanently sound," no tax increases, look after lower income Americans, no change for the near-retired, gradual changes, make the system a better deal. There it is at last: "Voluntary Personal Retirement Accounts," even though they haven't really worked in any other country. Half the house applauds.

"Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver."

And be inheritable, because that is so important to our "ownership society" these days, a buzzphrase that didn't make the final cut of the speech. "The money in your account is yours, and the government can never take it away." No day trading, though, look for a "conservative mix of bonds and stock funds," that won't be eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees, with protection against bad timing on your exit, and the little number that's the big issue: up to 4% of payroll. Not a hint of how we're going to pay for yanking a third of the income away from a system "headed for bankruptcy." Is it just magic, George, or fundamentally dishonest? Whatever works.

Harry Reid's rebuttal put it this way: "It's wrong to replace 'guaranteed benefits' with guaranteed benefit cuts." Benefit cuts are not only on the table, they and another huge helping of near-term debt are the likely centerpiece of the plan. Those escaped mention, however, as if they weren't important considerations.

And now the marriage thing. Frankly, George, we don't give a damn what you think about Constitutional amendments, and YOU DON'T GET A VOTE. You also know, I'm sure, that 2/3rds of this Congress will not roll over for this, and that it continues to be shameless and dishonest pandering to your base for political purposes.

Idaho's Legislature had its say yesterday, and I'm happy to report that ever so slightly more than one third of our Senate killed it, for now. Proponents needed 24 of 35 votes to pass it, but got only a 21. We'll rely on our existing statute to protect heterosexual marriage in the meantime.

"Legislating from the bench" is bad, but legislating from the White House is OK? Judges to George: you don't tell us how to do our job, we won't tell you how to do yours.

Equal justice—there's a good idea! Expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction. Hear, hear!

Recycling Roosevelt's "freedom from fear" for his War on Terror segment. Deep irony from the group that traded so freely in fear to entrench their power, but the applause lines are irrestible -- who can say no to "Homeland Security." Everyone—even the Chiefs—stands and applauds for "staying on the offensive until the fight is won."

Still trying to sell the idea that we have a genuine "coalition" in Iraq. By all means, let's start building coalitions, but don't try to make us believe you've done much of that so far. "Ending tyranny in our world," hear, hear. But by force of arms in how many countries? "The United States has no right, no desire and no intention of imposing our way of government on anyone else." This is good news for Canada; "respect for our neighbors" will keep us from invading and putting an end to gay marriage up there.

No Axis of Evil redux, and North Korea got off more easily than Syria. "Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve." The primary state sponsor of terror? What about North Korea's and Pakistan's primary roles in nuclear proliferation? Iraq is "a vital front in the war on terror." Ok, ok, we've been told this Big Lie so many times, we're all supposed to just stipulate this now. See, after we invaded the country, the terrorists came right in!

I was sorry to see that the proposed increase in death benefits to those who die while in the military didn't make the cut. He went for a tear-jerking introduction of an anecdotal couple, honoring one of the too many deaths he's caused for the thrilling climax of his speech.

A kiss for Joe Lieberman on the way out, whaddayaknow about that? Must be fun to have all these important people say "great speech, sir" to you on your way out.

The Democratic reponse was ok, albeit with the reduced energy of a "yeah but" in a closed room. Reid tried out his downhome American values life story and legitimately big themes that George Bush has managed to make seem small: government living up to family values, and doing something about the BIRTH TAX, now at $36,000. The Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility, it's a crazy world.

We need a Marshall Plan for America, we need to "go, and grow." Or was it "grow, and go"? India and China are taking our jobs. (But then, there are almost 10 times as many of them as us and they need the work.)

"Today is Groundhog Day... the same old ideology we've heard over, and over again," not to mention the same old fabrications.

Pelosi, on national security: first of all, hooray for our troops. "We must consider our role in Iraq," and HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET OUT OF THERE? "Iraq has become a magnet for international terrorists." Both sides seem to agree on that. She's got three bullet points (so to speak) that need to be addressed, but Bush is not that kind of detail guy. Dick and Rummy can handle all that. And she's not happy about the President's action toward fixing the Homeland Security thing.

3.Feb.2005, by Tom von Alten

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Friday, 04-Feb-2005 12:58:40 MST