President George W. Bush’s sixth State of the Union Address was his best so far, rhetorically speaking. As befits a President in deep trouble, his body language was that of a beta male, and he smiled demurely. His tone was calm and conciliatory, at times to the point of pleading. To the uninitiated, Mr. Bush came across as a “regular guy.” Observed in isolation from the issues at stake, he remains more likable, and his presentation more ostensibly credible, than anything his Democratic detractors can offer.
Nonetheless, the oration Mr. Bush gave on January 23 was flawed, for three reasons: It was mendacious in its stated priorities; it was inaccurate in its proposed solutions; and it was fundamentally deceitful on the one issue that overshadows all others—Iraq.
To focus the speech on domestic issues at a time when the country is facing the worst foreign-policy disaster since Vietnam was eccentric at best. Yet the President chose to devote most of his time to traditionally Democratic issues: reducing gasoline consumption and expanding health-insurance coverage. He suggested solutions to both that seem tailor-made to resonate with the public at large and to gain the approval of congressional Democrats. Tax cuts, a balanced budget, energy conservation, and healthcare reform are all fine and dandy by themselves. Mr. Bush’s attempt to change the subject of Iraq, however, is pathetic.
In his speech, Mr. Bush failed on the domestic policy that is most worthy of our attention: immigration. Within weeks rather than months, he is likely to put together a bipartisan agenda for “immigration reform” (i.e., amnesty for up to 18 million illegal immigrants from Mexico and other distinctly un-American places) that will gain support from his congressional opponents. He may not realize, however, that even opening the floodgates would not get him more than a pat on the back from the left.
No solution to the mess Bush created in Iraq will be supported by the people who dislike him with gusto—and there are at least as many of them today as there were those who hated Clinton’s guts a decade ago. To put it succinctly, Bush haters want him to fail in Iraq more than they want America to succeed in disentangling herself. What Pelosi & Co. see as Bush’s well-deserved comeuppance will come back to haunt all of us—Democrats included.
Bush paid polite respects to the new masters of both houses (particularly to Speaker Pelosi), but, when he finally came to Iraq, the message was far from bipartisan: There’s a war to be won, and victory is possible. Victory is not probable, however, and the net effect of Mr. Bush’s undermanned Surge in Baghdad and western Anbar will be to make the domestic playing field even more friendly to the Democrats.
Bush’s proposals on Iraq are neither realistic nor strategically significant. A mere 20,000-strong reinforcement can alter the equation in a neighborhood or two in Baghdad or western Anbar. But to “win the war” in Mr. Bush’s sense (leaving behind a democratic, pro-American, anti-jihadist, stable, unified Iraq), a million GIs would be needed for at least a decade.
The annual “State of the Union” address, as demonstrated by Mr. Bush’s latest performance, is simply a highly publicized opportunity for an incumbent President to give a self-serving homily designed to improve his ratings. It should either be privatized and turned into a network special with a six-figure price tag or be abolished.
For many decades, the State of the Union Address has had little to do with the real condition of the Republic—her true economic and political strength, her culture, her faith—and everything to do with the agenda of the Duopoly of which Washington is the capital, and the world, the oyster. As theater and as a concept, it is reminiscent of the Supreme Soviet, circa 1937. As an institution, it is superfluous, embarrassing, and eminently worthy of extinction.
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