I like Mona Charen and I think her critique of Bushs speech at NRO has much to offer the Administration as a heuristic device for future speeches and policies. She argues that Bush missed an opportunity last night to shore up his conservative base to and make a reasonable argument about the limits of democracy (e.g., Hamas winning Palestinian elections and, therefore, democracy does not always equal freedom). The problem with her argument, it seems to me, is that it--while correct in a strict sense on some levels--misses the big picture. Shoring up the conservative base is important--to be sure--but it is not the most important function of a SOTU speech. Besides, we conservatives were on the heels of getting Alito and the now more or less certain knowledge that well probably get at least one more before Bushs term is out. The Dems are committing political suicide all around us. We shouldve been shored up enough yesterday to bear with him in this speech. Calm down.
The biggest political problem we face as a nation--and no one sees this more clearly than Bush in my view--is the success that Dems have had in dividing us from each other and misleading the people about our purposes in the world. Painting the Dems as new-fangled isolationists (put another way, a new take on yet another discredited idea) was a brilliant strategy. There are too many well-meaning but misguided Americans who do not support the idea that America must be engaged in this war on terror or in the world generally. Never mind the details of how we wage the war or how we are engaged in the world for now. It will be impossible to sort through all of that if we dont have enough support for the idea that we must be in it in the first place. I am heartened that Bush seems finally to have taken Dems out on the carpet for their fool-hardy politics. He is reminding people that the Dems are the masters of stupid policies that, if followed, will get us killed (after they sink us into poverty). I think it was brilliant to link this neo-isolationism in foreign policy to its twin policy in trade--protectionism. People know on a gut level that the world is changed forever by faster communications and emerging markets. My children will have to compete in a marketplace dominated not only with the leading lights of their generation in America--but with kids growing up in straw huts somewhere in China or India. Its a bigger, more complicated world, than the policies born out of mid-20th century labor politics can handle. The Democratic party of today is so mired in its past that it is not only incapable of leading--it is nearly irrelevant. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, saw and heard that last night.
Mona is right that more (much more) will need to be done to make Republicans equal to the challenge. But the Democrats arent even in the right starting gate. A couple days of basking in this glow are in order. We need to see the big picture clearly before we move on to the harder work Mona proposes. Win the mid-terms and then get to work making our party stronger, smarter and more effective.