of the Union - One Listener's Reaction
by Scott Alexander
After a shaky start a little over a year ago when many people
were questioning his qualifications and his very legitimacy,
most Americans now agree that Bush has grown into his job
and increased in stature, especially after "hitting the trifecta"
of war, recession and national emergency, as he jokingly put
it shortly after September 11.
Now enjoying the highest approval ratings of any President
in history (over 80% according to some polls), Bush delivered
a rousing State of the Union address to a cheering audience,
never once voicing the expectation or even the hope that the
"war on terror" would end someday, instead bravely reminding
us that the "war" has just begun, referring to "tens of thousands
of terrorists still at large" (a rather high number security
experts are already questioning), naming three countries he
views as threats (North Korea, Iraq and Iran), promising strikes
(apparently pre-emptive this time) against any country that
threatens America, and even working in a plug for his impossible
dream (and the defense industry's wet dream) of a missile
shield - a controversial proposal which was one of the few
lines that did NOT get a standing ovation during his speech.
About three-quarters sabre-rattling with a just the right
amount of fear-mongering thrown in, Bush's State of the Union
address had the whole crowd clapping and rising to its feet
again and again, except for rare occasions when the Democrats
failed to rise.
When not talking about war, Bush was upbeat and vague, the
better to be uncandid. On the topic of the economy, he said
his strategy can be summed up in just one word - "jobs" -
but instead of actually telling us what he would do to create
more jobs he shamelessly plugged his favorite programs such
as corporate welfare (code-named "economic stimulus") and
Republican-style wealth redistribution from the poor to the
rich (those same old "tax cuts" where 90% of the cut went
to the richest 1% of the nation).
He said reassuring things about helping our seniors ("prescription
drug benefits") and educating our children ("leave no child
behind"), but people who have read the fine print in his proposals
for these areas were probably not impressed. Bush came out
in favor of energy independence and even conservation (apparently
learning from Cheney's blunder last year back around the time
of his six top-secret energy-policy meetings with energy hedge-fund
manager Ken Lay, when the VP dismissed conservation as a mere
sign of personal virtue, rather than a basis for a sound energy
However, Bush still didn't say whether he had finally come
around to a long-term solution like the renewable energy sources
the rest of the world is adopting (such as Iceland, which
plans to become 100% energy independent within a generation),
or if he was still stuck on his oil buddies' stopgap solution
of plundering the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (which,
as we now know, holds only a piddling 6 months' worth of oil,
if that much).
Bush made many inspiring allusions to our country's "freedom,"
probably thinking that if he could just say the word enough
times then he could make us all forget that he and his Attorney
General, slavery apologist and habeas-corpus enemy John Ashcroft,
have paradoxically twisted September 11 into an excuse to
pass the oddly-named and probably unconstitutional USA PATRIOT
Act, which attempts to take away some of our most cherished
freedoms, including freedom from secret detention and trial,
freedom from search and seizure without a warrant, and freedom
from government eavesdropping on private communications or
Without uttering the name of our nation's biggest bankruptcy
and his own biggest bankroller, the President blamed the mushrooming
Enron scandal entirely on the accountants (calling for stricter
fiduciary controls and more-flexible 401(k) plans), and not
at all on the hundreds of politicians and regulators who were
bribed and coerced to rewrite our laws and look the other
way while Bush's top campaign contributor siphoned off billions
of dollars from our country's investors, energy consumers,
workers and future retirees via the offshore banking network
(a network which the previous President had quite rightly
clamped down on, Bush later inexplicably eased up on, and
which Al Qaida and Ken Lay and assorted drug dealers continue
to use for stashing and laundering their dirty dollars).
Although no details were forthcoming in the State of the
Union address itself, the fine print in Bush's proposals for
corporate welfare ("economic stimulus") and bottom-up wealth
redistribution ("tax cuts") still probably includes an inexplicable
$254 million giveaway of taxpayers' money to none other than
Enron, to go along with the nearly $400 million in "economic
stimulus" Enron has already received as a reward for not paying
income taxes in four out of the last five years.
Some people, noticing that last year Bush was pushing tax
cuts for the wealthy and corporate welfare for tax-avoiding
companies because of the SURPLUS and now this year he's pushing
it because of the DEFICIT, have started to suspect that this
one-size-fits-all method of funneling all the money to the
rich is just a repeat of Reagan's "supply-side economics"
or Bush Senior's "voodoo economics" under another name - now
called, in honor of Bush's number-one backer, "Enronomics."
Aside from his specific proposals for giving the military
a pay raise and the defense contractors a pie-in-the-sky "Star
Wars" boondoogle, there was one other specific proposal Bush
made: that all Americans should consider donating two years
or "four thousand hours" to serving their country, under the
auspices of a program dubbed the "Freedom Corps." Apparently
his speechwriters have finally realized that when times are
tough, 'tis nobler to ask people to make useful sacrifices
rather than to ask them to go shopping and traveling. Bush
helpfully suggested that retired doctors and nurses could
volunteer for the Freedom Corps, perhaps as a way of saving
some money on homeland security, and Americans young and old
could join up and spread our "compassion" around the world.
After Bush's inspiring speech, a friend asked me what I thought.
"Sounds like a great country," I said. "I'd like to go there
sometime." Bush's speech was rousing and served its purpose
of rallying the cheering audience (perhaps a skill he learned
from his days as a male cheerleader at prep school), but it
was short on specifics and honesty.
Listening to Bush's speech and the excited audience response,
one might easily come to understand how danger and decline
can unify a nation behind its leader. When a country is confronted
by war and recession, rousing rhetoric is easier to come up
with, and standing ovations are apparently a dime a dozen,
judging by the number of times the audience in Congress rose
to their feet to punctuate Bush's short, simple sentences
about "freedom" and "evil" and his vaguely-worded policy proposals.
A perverse "worse is better" principle may be at work here:
the worse our problems become, the more we need help and the
better our leader - any leader - sounds.
Scott Alexander (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance computer programmer living in New York and