. . . of the State of the Union tonight.
Nancy Pelosi just appeared on CNN and impressed me positively, to my great surprise and for almost the first time. Usually I hear her and think, "Whiny liberal." Obviously the Dems have been working hard on their image and agenda. Pelosi was doggedly positive -- smiling so hard it must have hurt -- and strategically conciliatory. She backed up the controversial choice for the Democratic response of new centrist VA governor Tim Kaine, in office only 15 days, in no uncertain terms. She spoke of a new "innovation agenda" dedicated to making America competitive and energy-independent, and she called health care a competitiveness issue. This is a new coherence and "message discipline," and I wonder who's the brains behind it.
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8:35 Much talk about the "designated survivor," who has the black satchel called the "nuclear football" with him in case the Capitol Building were to be attacked while most of the government is in it.
One of the honored guests at the State of the Union is a German shepherd, and I don't mean Pope Benedict XVI -- a handsome bomb-sniffing dog who served in Iraq, was seriously wounded with his handler, and has now retired and been reunited with her by an act of Congress.
There's been much talk about whether Martha Alito, whose emotional moment became the Republican propaganda coup of the Judiciary Committee hearings, will be seated next to Laura Bush. [Later: she's not. A woman in a hijab is.]
Cindy Sheehan was given a ticket to the speech by a Democrat activist, but apparently she's been arrested by the Capitol police!!
Much reportorial yakking about how pageantry trumps partisanship tonight -- a brief truce in an ugly time.
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Sheehan was already in her seat in the galleries, and she unfurled an antiwar banner, which is against House rules. She's going to be held and questioned for an hour or so she can't come back.
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9:10 Missed the red carpet ceremonies. Alito was looking around like the new kid in school, and a good boy too. Now the ritual starts. Standing, clapping.
Do I only imagine that it's with a bit of special relish that Bush welcomes "members of the Supreme Court"?
He opens with a brief eulogy for Coretta Scott King.
"Even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. . . . I will do my part. Tonight the state of our Union is strong, and we will make it stronger."
The theme song is "I Won't Back Down."
"We seek the end of tyranny in our world." Whew! Tall order! "Democracies replace resentment with hope." (And Islamism.) Not a hopeless dream. There are 5 times as many democracies in the world now as right after WWII. Women are voting in Afghanistan. People in Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran -- our peace and progress and the world's "require their freedom as well."
Terrorism is "the perversion by a few of a noble faith." By terror tactics those few "hope to break our will . . . allowing the violent to inherit the earth." But they underestimated our love for freedom. "There is no peace in retreat." "The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil." He talks about our record of liberating concentration camps and facing down the Evil Empire. Ringing, stirring rhetoric, but it goes a little too far: We Are The Good. That can be dangerous. I'll have little humility in my pride, please.
In Iraq, "we are winning." The Repubs all stand up and applaud. In the Democratic section, no one but a couple of decorated military men does.
Why we must not precipitously leave Iraq. All true. We must keep our word. We must not let Zarqawi and Bin Laden gain control of a strategic country. Victory is the path home for the troops. Too bad Cindy Sheehan isn't there to hear that.
Gratitude to the troops and their families for their service and sacrifice. The grieving family of a fallen soldier, Dan Clay, are guests.
"Democracies in the Middle East may not look like our own." (No shit.) But "liberty is the right and hope of all humanity."
Iran. Support for terror must end. Development of nuclear weapons must not be permitted. To the citizens of Iran: "We respect your right to choose your own future . . . our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."
The anti-isolationist theme continues with compassionate work: fighting AIDS and malaria. Doing good is smart. We protect ourselves by helping to reduce misery and instability in the world.
(The president has TMJ. He moves his jaw from side to side and you can see it click.)
He aggressively defends the NSA wiretapping by the fact that two hijackers placed phone calls before September 11. He says he is using both constitutional and statutory authority and has kept key members of Congress informed. This is the first time his voice rises -- "we will not sit back and wait to be hit again."
Comes back to the anti-isolationist theme. It's getting repetitive, losing force; he needs to get to the domestic side. I guess this is the wind-up of this section.
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Goddamn TypePad was just down, or something -- took five minutes or more to save that last bit. So I missed the beginning of the economics section. Bush took a deep breath and launched himself into it as if leaving safe ground, holy ground, and jumping into cold and choppy water. He's like Antaeus, only powerful when standing on the ground of the war and national security, dwindling to an ordinary mortal anywhere else.
Republicans all stand up and applaud the line "make the tax cuts permanent." Dems stand up and riotously cheer the failure of Social Security reform! Hillary is beaming!
The theme and structure of the whole speech is, despite the temptation and the dream of an easier life, we will not retreat -- into isolationism in foreign affairs, into protectionism or statism in economic affairs.
Second to NSA wiretapping, he raises his voice most on medical-liability reform! All those women who can't find an OB-GYN.
"Keeping America competitive" -- he seems to be trying to preempt the Democrats here. They tipped their hand by doing all those "prebuttals," so he's stealing that bit of their thunder.
Oil addiction, new technologies. Emission free coal plants, solar, wind, nuclear. Change how we power our automobiles. Better batteries for hybrids; pollution-free hydrogen engines; ethanol from more than just corn. Replace -- did he say more than 75%?? -- of our foreign petroleum dependence by 2025.
"Move beyond a petroleum-based economy"?! Wait a minute, this is an oilman!
"American competitiveness initiative." Math and science. Gotta get our educational edge back. Opportunity and innovation. He's not leaving much left over for the Dems.
"Our goodness is not measured in power or luxuries but in who we are and how we treat each other." If only.
Fewer abortions than at any point in the last 3 decades. Number of children born to teen mothers has been falling for 12 consecutive years. "A quiet transformation. . . . A rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment."
Despite the remaining challenges we're a country of hope. We've proved the pessimists wrong before.
He calls for a ban on human cloning in all its forms. Human life is a gift from our Creator, and "that gift should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale." So what about all those frozen embryos in storage in fertility clinics?
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Sorry, folks, TypePad screwed me. The server wasn't responding; it took 5 or 10 minutes for each save, so I missed being able to blog a great deal of the speech (wasn't quick-witted enough to continue on a Word document till it cleared up).
CNN's commentary says Bush was compelled by circumstances to be much more "humble" this time. What are they talking about??? The domestic side, no doubt -- Bush would rather not have talked about that at all if he could have avoided it. But that's not what I heard. What I heard was a coded acknowledgement that the conservative revolution is at least two-thirds completed and in place, and it just needs to be wrapped up. I have very mixed feelings about that. I think some of it's all to the good (the part about "quiet transformation" and personal responsibility leading to fulfillment) and some of it's awful and scary. [UPDATE] I don't like social and sexual extremism either of the left or the right (and as in all things, I think the extremes are each other's secret allies and promoters). But values, I think, compete in an open market; although I hate seeing homosexuals made scapegoats and the new 3/5 persons, like slaves in the original Constitution, I am less afraid of the conservative "values revolution" (as I believe it will be naturally moderated, as in turn it moderates the excesses of libertinism) than I am of the creepy moves to lock up power for a particular secretive, authoritarian clique.
10:15: Tim Kaine's response. Right away he trots out both his faith-based and hs civil-rights credentials, talks about working as a missionary and pays homage to Coretta Scott King.
When the parties work together, government works for people, as in Virginia.
"Poor choices and bad management." Katrina's stranded survivors. Job loss. Struggles of soldiers in Iraq. He's hitting on COMPETENCE, on the equipment of emergency responders, the competence of teachers and disaster relief. He hits FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY!! Attacks the "make the tax cuts permanent." "Failure to manage our staggering national debt." We've gone from huge surpluses to massive deficits.
No Child Left Behind, which Bush bragged about, isn't being fully funded. Cutting billions from student loan programs that help working families send their kids to college. Bipartisanship in the states is improving education from kindergarten through high school.
Health care. Skyrocketing costs hurt small businesses. Growing numbers of uninsured. Medicaid cuts. More costs pushed onto the states. Drug plan isn't easier and cheaper, it's more complex and expensive and less reliable.
The speech is pedestrian and practical. He doesn't have a speechwriter with soaring rhetoric. He's talking nuts and bolts, dollars and sense.
We all agree about winning the war, but he goes back over the mistakes. Decries abandoning veterans, who have been helped by bipartisan initatives in Virginia.
Energy -- we're "more dependent on the Middle East than ever before." Oil companies were asked to return some of their record-breaking excess profits.
This is a policy-wonk, laundry-list speech with the refrain "There is a better way." "The better way is to focus on service . . . measure what we do in terms of real results for real people."
So he won an election. Good governor. No charisma. None of the professional preparation, grooming and rehearsal the Prez gets. The speech unfortunately looks and sounds like an infomercial.
CNN's spin is attempting to undermine Bush, based on polls. It's not going to "move the needle;" his problems can't be "cured by a speech." Begala says a majority of the country now opposes the way he's running the war and doesn't trust him personally. If so, I don't think he cares!
First poll of people who watched the speech (this skews partisan, says Wolf Blitzer, because more people who like Bush watched the speech): 48 percent very positive (that was 74 percent in 2002), 27 percent somewhat positive, 23 percent negative. Begala immediately spins it negative. "Distant and out of touch with the real lives of real people . . . what's competitiveness? People just want to be able to pay their bills." Talk about having no respect for the intelligence of the American people.