I just did a video log of my reactions to President Bush’s speech last night and will post in a bit — but my quick bullet point response to the evening included these items:
1. This was Bush’s least memorable speech because it may have been his least stridently partisan.
2. On issues of climate change, education, and supporting our military forces with the tools and equipment they need — Bush has clearly adopted much of the rhetoric of the Democrats. He urged argent action on climate change, even though he popped in some uncomfortable zingers — like a push on nuclear (which he did with a grin) and a critique of developing nations by saying “no free rides” if we are all going to do our part in cutting greenhouse gases.
3. While his speech didn’t have much sizzle, he did profile highly two accomplishments that I think will be remembered by historians as his legacy. Tax cuts and faith-based initiatives. Blurring the lines between religion and government is something I don’t support — but both parties are engaged in this, and Bush will get credit over time for institutionalizing a faith-obsessed trend that probably began with Jimmy Carter and was given a big push by Bill Clinton — but which George W. Bush made an Olympics sport,
4. The full chamber support that Dems and Republicans gave Bush on Iraq shows to some degree what a seductive guy Bush can be at times. He has convinced Congress that America’s goals in Iraq are being met because of the decline in violence and the seeming success of the surge. First of all, I don’t buy the outlines of this success if we are achieving results by empowering some Sunni tribal, mafioso-like thugs who detest democracy as well as their fellow-Shiite brethren. But secondly, the surge was supposed to be a tool to reach a political outcome — not an end in itself, justified within its own context. Bush and Congress were applauding a tactic last night — not commenting on our strategic success or failures.
5. On Israel/Palestine, which Bush called recklessly the Holy Land, I was pleased to see Bush emphasize the importance of a deal in his speech. He didn’t outline how we were going to get to success — and the absence of some key players in the negotiations process practically assures future convulsions and preempts success — but still, I’m glad Bush touched on the subject.
Interestingly, when the White House sent out its “State of the Union Highlights” which I posted yesterday evening, Israel/Palestine peace was not on the list.
6. The President mentioned his concerns about genocide and Sudan — at which point Nancy Pelosi jumped out of her seat clapping strongly and loudly. In contrast, Cheney sat for a bit — unsure if he should stand or not — which he finally did.
7. There are many other critiques I could offer — particularly the absence of a comprehensive global vision of any kind. His cliched and tired comments about “supporting freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma” was just odd and seemed like a check-off strategy for nations that needed to be mentioned. In the case of Cuba, opening up travel — a Constitutional right of Americans that their government has robbed from them — would do more to promote awareness and new possibilities of freedom than the administration’s failed approach to US-Cuban relations.
8. The oddest thing I saw last night occurred before the speech when Hillary Clinton walked into the chamber and began shaking hands with various Members of Congress sitting around Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama, who themselves were seated together. Kennedy graciously shook Hillary Clinton’s hand as did everyone else there — with the exception of Barack Obama, who just turned away.
I haven’t decided whether this slight prickliness that Obama continues to exhibit — of turning away from her, of pursing his lips as if furious, of reluctantly saying as he did one night in a debate about Clinton “you’re likable enough” — is something I like or not. I want to see some of the more savage and tough-minded qualities of Obama that the Clintons seem to be so good at.
But still the Clintons will shake hands with political rivals like Kennedy.
And Obama — who says that he is willing to talk to dictators and thugs around the world (something I support) — seems unwilling, at least last night, to engage Hillary Clinton unless compelled.
— Steve Clemons