Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The speech is here. It was stylistically and substantively better than I’d been led to expect. The domestic policy proposals (e.g., tax deductions for private health insurance and school vouchers) were, as NRO’s Peter Robinson noted, conservative (for the most part). I couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t make Nancy Pelosi happy.

I was heartened by the way he spoke about our war against the terrorists, both in describing their aims and in showing that the struggle evolves as each side adapts to the other’s initiatives. This is grown-up talk:

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you’ve made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.

Now have at it.

Discussions - 8 Comments

I thought it was an earnest attempt to bolster support for his Iraq effort and that, in the main, he did a decent job of it. I thought the closing was weird--with all the folks in the gallery. That’s an expected part of these speeches now, I know, but why didn’t he start with the veteran? He was almost over-shadowed (perhaps literally so) by the very tall basketball player and the subway hero. If one is going to have all these people there, then have them there to illustrate a point or a theme. He almost did that, but not quite. It could have been done much more explicitly and forcefully. Some of that language was very nice (e.g., "This is a decent and honorable country -- and resilient, too.") But that could have been, and I think should have been the theme of the whole speech. That would have played very nicely and resounded with the American people in a way that inspired them. Instead it was a throw away line at the end of the speech where it, like the veteran, was overshadowed by levity. Isn’t there anyone clever enough to write him a speech with a theme?

The spending stuff was full of half-hearted platitudes. And as far as the rest of his domestic agenda goes (but for the appointing of judges and controlling the border) I almost don’t care. The Dems are going to be running that show anyway and his job will be, mainly, to keep them from doing too much damage. I give it a C+, maybe a B- for the Iraq part.

One other note: I watched the NBC feed. Was it just me, or did anyone else notice that John McCain looked like he was asleep at one point?

Watched it on Fox. Missed the McCain nod. Couldn’t help but notice Pelosi’s fidgeting behind the president; all that was missing was a pinch of tuh-backee between her cheek and gum. She may have held the gavel, but Bush made it clear to her that he was ready to get the thing started. But he was all smiles to her after a presidential nudge to get the ball rolling. Beginning by lauding the first female speaker was perfect, and as gracious and courteous as could be expected, esp. with the reference to her father, a former congressman. Nice touch. On with the speech.

I liked it. While not a home run--a political Kirk Gibson was simply not possible, given the nation’s war-weariness and a newly Democratic Congress--I think the president once again exceeded the MSM’s expectations by acknowledging the Dem’s recent victory but not backing off his plan for a new way forward in Iraq. I agree with Julie that the theme of the speech could have been more pronounced, but unlike Churchill’s pudding, it was there. As in all of his major addresses, the theme was freedom. Sure, he expressed it in different ways: domestically, it was "spreading opportunity and hope" (his most repeated formulation), while abroad it was "the cause of liberty" (and "human freedom" and "the rights of all humanity"--love this last phrase, a tidy restatement of the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence) vs. "totalitarian ideology." My favorite line on the foreign policy front was, "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," as this emphasized that the war was not between two world religions (i.e., Christian America and an Islamic Middle East, as some would view it) but between the forces of freedom and despotism. Thus, he did his best not to use the word "Muslim," saving it for the one mention of the "Muslim house of prayer" that was blown up by religious extremists. In short, Muslims killing Muslims was yet another reminder of the kind of extremes that the enemies of America have gone to in order to thwart the undisputed leader of the free world.

Useful to tie national security to defeating terrorists abroad; can’t do that enough, I say. But it is a harder sell that "America is still a nation at war" when only a very small portion of America bears the true burden of the fight (encounters with TSA do not qualify); fact remains, while he spent half the speech on the Iraq war, he would have done well to make the case for his new strategy there (even fewer Americans saw his last speech on the subject than would view this speech; it can afford repeating). Why is securing the citizens of Baghdad thru American-led forces and advisors worth the troop surge? Why is this new objective not simply putting more American lives in the way of rival death squads, militia, insurgents, etc., with little assurance that the Iraqis will increasingly shoulder the security burden? The president, in short, needed to persuade the American citizenry, with greater detail than he offered, to give his new strategy and longstanding goal for the region time to succeed. It’s clear an impatient Democratic majority will have none of it.

Now, a few words on Sen. Jim Webb’s response: Smart move by the Dems to have a war hero from a strong military tradition (his son now serves in the infantry in Iraq) respond to the SOTU address. This is the opening salvo of the 2008 presidential election prospects for the Dems, an attempt to shore up their military cred at a time when everyone knows that party wants out of Iraq pronto. Gotta look strong militarily as we bow out of the Iraq conflict on the Dems’ watch; can’t have American voters thinking the Dems are weak on defense going into Election 2008. And so Webb gave it to the president with both barrels blasting: simply put, the war was unnecessary, recklessly started, and entirely avoidable. Now that we’re in it, time to de-escalate as best we can so that fewer Americans are lost and Iraq (somehow--though not explained) does not become a chaotic civil war, or something to that effect. Citing IKE’s line about the Korea War, "When is the end?" was a pretty good body blow, but not decisive. Time truly will tell if the President will be able to get results quick enough in Baghdad to convince Americans to stay the course for the next year and a half.

Ah, one more thing about Webb and the Democrats: the economy. Just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could they? Talk about no good deed going unpunished, what is it with the Dems that they just cannot stand it when the economy really flourishes; it’s always a glass half empty from where they stand. Can’t acknowledge that the #s on, well, you name it, inflation, jobs, wages, home ownership, interest rates, what have you (emphasis on the "have"), are better than ever. Webb and the Dems think it’s always the haves vs. have nots, whereas for Bush and the GOP it’s the haves vs. have mores--and that should be fine all around! Webb had to stretch to find soemthing wrong with the entrepreneurial ethos of the Bush years, and so he pits Wall St. vs. Main St., with, get this, how "the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did" back in Webb’s college days but "today, it’s nearly 400 times." Does anyone really lose sleep over this? Is it even a relevant measure of the health of the economy? Actually, I suspect his example proves that, in general, when more folks at the tip top make big-time bucks, it means the companies they direct are creating jobs for us non-CEO types, establishing 401Ks and other retirement funds to which we worker-bees can contribute, and otherwise helping to create services and products that are truly in demand. And is it not the case that vastly more Americans today (as opposed to the good old days) actually own shares of these companies that CEOs have helped to make profitable?

Alright, a final word on Bush’s speech, esp. its closing. My feeling was less "weird" and more "rushed." Tied the thing up much too abruptly. The speech had several nice turns of phrase, but folks remember the start and finish of a speech, and this one needed a strong, memorable conclusion, even with the presidential shout-outs to guestbox dignitaries. The last paragraph showed the absence of Michael Gerson (or even a Peggy Noonan); witness the last sentence: "Yet we can go forward with confidence--because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless." ". . . tonight that cause goes on"? We can be grateful the preceding paragraphs were much more elevated in tone, expression, and cadence. And so the president started strong, held his own for 50 minutes, but fell a bit flat at the very end. All in all, not a bad effort, given the drubbing his party took in the last election.

Lucas and Julie: Nice, realistic statements. It was an earnest and decent speech, and a particularly good and honest defense of what we must do in Iraq now. The doemstic proposals, I imagine, didn’t capture the imagination, partly because, as Julie says, they obviously aren’t going anywhere. He probably should have spent some quality time really bragging about and explaining the cause of our booming economy, which deserves to be the popular part of his legacy so far. All in all, the speech’s main strength was that it was a courageous argument based on sound principles by a man who has resolved to do what he can to be an effective president. He clearly isn’t either clueless or despondent. I’m not sure anyone could have delivered a great speech in his situation. The truth is that any effort really to inspire the American people about the war effort right now isn’t going to work, and few minds were changed or hearts elevated last night. It’s true enough that members of Congress didn’t vote for failure. But they and most people now seem all too resigned to it, and they blame the president for it. On that point, Webb’s remarks were forceful and clear, and polls show people voted for that "Democratic narrative." But Webb also looked ridiculous, and so his version of the Demoratic words had no impact last night.

It’s interesting that even Bush’s supporters seem continously amazed at his resilience in the face of adverse politics and media. He seemed, once again, clearly unperturbed by all the opposition and committed to resolving the Iraq campaign before leaving office. Hopefully, he’ll really follow through this time on his stated intentions and find a general--if Petraeus isn’t the one--who can win.

I confess I didn’t pay close attention to anything but the foreign policy/Iraq section of the speech. About that I thought the president said the right things. But events, not words, now will tell.

I listened to the speech on NPR and kept shouting at the radio as they voice-over summarized as the president spoke.

Yesterday’s testimony by General Petraeus was also, I thought, powerful and possibly helpful.

Steve Thomas, How funny. That’s how I listened to the speech, and I did the same thing. It is funny that NPR keeps advertising itself as radio for smart people, and then think they need to direct your thought on every point.

There does seem to be a general complaint on the topic of a lack of theme to the speech. Yet, I do see Lucas’ point on that. Maybe the theme of "freedom" wasn’t heard well because everyone takes that theme for granted from Bush?

Last time I looked, the democratically elected Iraqi government WAS the Shi’ite extremist parties!

The Sunnis will never retake Iraq. They could take a few majority-Sunni provinces, but the Shi’ites and Kurds have learned a long, bitter lesson about the danger of Sunni domination and they aren’t about to let their guard down.

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