Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reaction to Bush's Speech

I've been surveying the TV networks and the internet for the last day to see what other people thought of Bush's speech. Most of the TV commentators were polite about a speech that was one of the worst State of the Union addresses in ages.

Most liberals and moderates on the blogs and the rest of the internet gave Bush's speech low marks. Most conservatives tended to hear a different State of the Union address, or pretended to, as they continue to circle the wagons around Bush's failed presidency.

I saw no more than ten minutes of the speech but I have read the speech twice. I can only shake my head at what passes for presidential material in a Washington thoroughly controlled by a Republican party that some of my more conservative but rational relatives are no longer able to recognize.

Think Progress, as I mentioned in the last post, did a good job of catching the many inconsistencies, contradictions, inaccuracies and hypocritical statements made in Bush's speech. What I have said so far is not hyperbole though I wish it were. I'm at a loss at how to say what needs to be said more thoughtfully.

I haven't a single doubt that much of Bush's speech was checked by Karl Rove, even to the extent that various lines were probably tested on focus groups, with particular attention to how the comments played to 'the base,' as Bush's strongest right wing supporters are called. (And how are the history books, particularly those written in other languages, going to handle Republicans referring to their most ardent supporters as 'the base' at the same time the name of the terrorist organization that Bush is fighting is called al Qaida, or 'the base' in Arabic?; this is by any definition a strange era.)

I have no idea how large Bush's base is, exactly. I have heard numbers ranging from 25% to 40% which means a minority of voters have managed to control the nation's agenda with the help of meek Republican moderates and traditional conservatives who have largely abandoned their principles except when it is politically useful to remember them. Yes, I know, sometimes a few Republicans allow their consciences to be tweaked and some of the worst nonsense has been turned aside. But this has not been a good era for either party. And I'm mystified how exactly this era should be defined.

If I could properly understand Bush's speech, it might be easier for me to understand where we are and where we're going. I'll mention just three things in Bush's speech that staggered me. First, who in the world are these isolationists Bush is talking about? A certain part of Bush's speech created an imaginary isolationist that I suppose was intended as a kind of straw man. And what is Bush? Is he claiming to be an internationalist? Does an internationalist set a record by an American president for breaking treaties? Can one really be the leader of the free world by trying to defend torture? Can one even claim to be an internationalist while showing a profound disinterest in listening to other nations? What exactly are the claims that Bush can make while showing a profound level of incompetence in the conduct of war and diplomacy?

Bush talked about the spread of democracy but his examples have many problems. He mentioned that Egypt has held multi-party elections. Yes, that's true in a limited sense. Just how limited became obvious when, shortly after the election, Egypt's President Muburak arrested and threw in jail the man who came in second! This is democracy according to Bush?

The third thing I'll mention that staggered me is when Bush railed against human cloning, human-animal hybrids and other dangerous research. I know Bush is fond of using fear as a political tool but borrowing a scene from a bad movie seemed even below his usual form.

I could add many more examples and it still wouldn't clarify the Bush record and agenda. I hope the United States has the resilience to weather another three years of Bush. I said earlier that I don't know how to define this era. Sometimes, I worry that it's the summer of 1929 and the optimism of the White House has no connection to what is to come. I hope, perhaps more than I should, that this era is no different than 1986 when the S&L crisis was beginning to unfold and Iran/Contra was beginning to play out, and the consequences, though serious, were largely absorbed within a few years; I suspect many people in the mainstream press make this assumption (not a comforting thought). But there's a number of signs I don't like. I'll mention one. To save themselves from our recklessness, a number of countries and international investors keep buying our bonds as our deficit spins out of control. There may come a point when the self-interest of those investing in our bonds may eventually clash with the self-interest of the United States and we will find ourselves greatly weakened and in trouble.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the military and economic power of the United States is not unlimited. We can absorb only so much ideological recklessness and incompetence.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: the military and economic power of the United States is not unlimited."

Uh oh. Right there you opened yourself up to one of the Republican right's all-time favorite put downs. You obviously hate America, including all it does and all it stands for. You're obviously part of the hate-America-first crowd.

I think they believe that if they can discredit loyal Americans who dare criticize their increasingly bizarre notions about the right things to do, they can blow off criticisms without having to defend against them with intelligent arguments. Plus, in some cases critics will be discouraged from speaking up.

When it comes to our economic well being and future, our leaders have been playing with matches in a dynamite factory for more than a decade.

For a big reason why they can do that and get away with it, consider how many high school graduates have had a single course in economics — keeping in mind the high dropout rate. Then, consider the number of college graduates who've taken even a quarter or semester of economics.

For most, economics is a matter of common sense and popular wisdom. When it comes to time to grapple with big issues and stuff that's more complicated and far reaching than balancing their own checkbook, they're a perfect setup to fall for nonsense.

Perfect examples: Clinton's sending the U.S. economy for a head-first high dive onto the wet paper towel of free trading and George W. Bush's rendition of tax-cut and spend trickle-down.

For all their criticism of public education, I've yet to hear Republicans say anything about economics education. I've got a pretty good idea why I haven't.

7:18 PM  

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