Bush’s Forgettable Speech & The Handshake That Didn’t Happen


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


24 comments on “Bush’s Forgettable Speech & The Handshake That Didn’t Happen

  1. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Today, I heard that Obama campaign staffers are telling their street soldiers to avoid talking about the issues, and instead focus on how they “feeeel” about Obama.
    I also heard that Huckabible is taking Romney to task for peeling the skin off some KFC fried chicken before he ate it. It seems, for Huckabible’s poor pathetic southern sensibilities, such a practice borders on sacrilege.
    Ya know. Six more American soldiers have died in the last forty eight hours. Do I really give a flyin’ fuck about who shakes whose hand, how you feeeeel about Obama, or whether or not Romney peels his God damned chicken before he eats it?
    Good lord people, is this what this nation has become?


  2. Steve says:

    About Clinton and Walesa: To be fair to Clinton, he was late to everything.


  3. Linda says:

    Is an election about issues and the total picture of each candidate, or is it about one snapshot and cheap shots?


  4. Bill R. says:

    The Handshake that didn’t happen- Much ado about nothing..
    CNN) — It seems a snub is in the eye of the beholder.
    The question swirling around Barack Obama Tuesday: did he, or didn’t he, deliberately snub presidential rival Hillary Clinton at the State of the Union speech?
    Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the Illinois senator said all the talk swirling around the moment the two crossed paths Monday night is much ado about nothing.
    “I was surprised by sort of the reports this morning,” Obama told reporters. “You know there was the photograph in the Times about, sort of, me turning away. I was turning away because [Sen.] Claire [McCaskill] asked me a question as Sen. [Ted] Kennedy was reaching for her.”
    “Sen. Clinton and I have very cordial relations off the floor and on the floor. I waved at her as we were coming into the Senate chamber before we walked over last night,” he continued. “I think that there’s just a lot more tea leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”
    The moment came at Monday’s speech when Clinton headed to shake hands with a congressman seated in front of Obama. CNN’s Jessica Yellin reports that Kennedy, seated directly next to Obama, then moved to shake Clinton’s hand. As the two senators spoke, Obama turned to look at the back of the room. It was only after Obama turned away, Yellin reports, that McCaskill struck up a conversation with Obama.
    McCaskill also commented on the incident Tuesday, calling it “one of those accidents that just happened and got caught on film.”


  5. Carroll says:

    Why does this blonde joke remind me of trying to find an honest politican?
    “A young blonde was on vacation and driving through the Everglades. She wanted to take home a pair of genuine alligator shoes in the worst way, but was very reluctant to pay the high prices the local vendors were asking.
    After becoming very frustrated with the “no haggle on prices” attitude of one of the shopkeepers, the blonde shouted, “Well then, maybe I’ll just go out and catch my own alligator, so I can get a pair of shoes for free!”
    The shopkeeper said with a sly, knowing smile, “Little lady, just go and give it a try!”
    The blonde headed out toward the swamps, determined to catch an alligator.
    Later in the day, as the shopkeeper is driving home, he pulls over to the side of the levee where he spots the same young woman standing waist deep in the murky bayou water, shotgun in hand.
    Just then, he spots a huge 9-foot gator swimming rapidly toward her. With lightning speed, she takes aim, kills the creature and hauls it onto the slimy bank of the swamp.
    Lying nearby were 7 more of the dead creatures, all lying on their backs.
    The shopkeeper stood on the bank, watching in silent amazement.
    The blonde struggled and flipped the gator onto its back.
    Rolling her eyes heavenward and screaming in great frustration, she shouts out…


  6. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks David. There’s always a back story — and I think that this is mostly trivial as is much of the back and forth during these debates and photo ops. Thanks for the link.
    Steve Clemons


  7. David says:

    Admittedly, in response to a similar accusation today, Obama noted that at the moment of the photograph he had just turned to talk to Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). She, in turn, confirmed this story. (One example of this confirmation can be found here: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0108/8178.html )
    Whether or not that is completely true is, as always, questionable. But if you are going to lay down such criticism, especially extrapolating that criticism to have greater importance concerning his ability to be president, his response should also be noted.


  8. ChrisO says:

    I think it was very gracious of Hillary to shake hands with a man who has spent the past week painting her and her husband as racists.


  9. Cycledco says:

    The tension between developing nations’ views and the President’s comments on climate change is a bit like his (and the right’s) take on affirmative action. We forget history and the current wide gulf between the haves and have nots and make the claim that “there are no free rides” as if the past (and present disparities) never existed. It’s nice fiction but it remains to be seen how it will play in a world where our influence is waning.


  10. Carroll says:

    A friend in public affairs for the military sent this to me today. Sorry the pictures in the email won’t show up.
    Is this the generation the politicans want us to be? If so why have they squandered the trust and looted the nation and made us all cynics with their corruption?
    I have sad news for Kennedy…there is no one in Washington who has the moral authority with their war lies and torture and self political interest and political cowardice and hokey tricks and pandering buyoffs of the public to ask for or lead a generation like the past one.
    Here’s the mail:
    “Written by a doctor, and very profound! This should be required reading in every school and college in our country. This Captain, an army doctor, deserves a medal himself for putting this email together.
    Soon To Be Gone – From A Military Doctor
    I am a doctor specializing in the Emergency Departments of the only two military Level One-Trauma Centers, both in San Antonio, TX and they care for civilian Emergencies as well as military personnel. San Antonio has the largest military retiree population in the world living here. As a military doctor, I work long hours and the pay is less th an glamorous. One tends to become jaded by the long hours, lack of sleep, food, family contact and the endless parade of human suffering passing before you. The arrival of another ambulance does not mean more pay, only more work.
    Most often, it is a victim from a motor vehicle crash.
    Often it is a person of dubious character who has been shot or stabbed. With our large military retiree population, it is often a nursing home patient. Even with my enlisted service and minimal combat experience in Panama, I have caught myself groaning when the ambulance brought in yet another sick, elderly person from one of the local retirement centers that cater to military retirees. I had not stopped to think of what citizens of this age group represented.
    I saw “Saving Private Ryan.” I was touched deeply. Not so much by the carnage, but by the sacrifices of so many. I was touched most by the scene of the elderly survivor at the graveside, asking his wife if he’d been a good man. I realized that I had seen these same men and women coming through my Emergency Dept. and had not realized what magnificent sacrifices they had made. The things they did for me and everyone else that has lived on this planet since the end of that conflict are priceless.
    Situation permitting, I now try to ask my patients about their experiences. They would never bring up the subject without the inquiry. I have been privileged to an amazing array of experiences, recounted in the brief minutes allowed in an Emergency Dept. encounter. These experiences have revealed the incredible individuals I have had the honor of serving in a medical capacity, many on their last admission to the hospital.
    There was a frail, elderly woman who reassured my young enlisted medic, trying to start an IV line in her arm. She remained calm and poised, despite her illness and the multiple needle-sticks into her fragile veins. She was what we call a “hard stick.” As the medic made another attempt, I noticed a number tattooed across her forearm. I touched it with one finger and looked into her eyes. She simply said, “Auschwitz.” Many of later generations would have loudly and openly berated the young medic in his many attempts. How different was the response from this person who’d seen unspeakable suffering.
    Also, there was this long retired Colonel, who as a young officer had parachuted from his burning plane over a Pacific Island held by the Japanese. Now an octogenarian, he had a minor cut on his head from a fall at his home where he lived alone. His CT scan and suturing had been delayed until after midnight by the usual parade of high priority ambulance patients. Still spry for his age, he asked to use the phone to call a taxi, to take him home, then he realized his ambulance had brought him without his wallet. He asked if he could use the phone to make a long distance call to his daughter who lived 7 miles away. With great pride we told him that he could not, as he’d done enough for his country and the least we could do was get him a taxi home, ev en if we had to pay for it ourselves. My only regret was that my shift wouldn’t end for several hours, and I couldn’t drive him myself.
    I was there the night MSgt. Roy Benavidez came through the Emergency Dept. for the last time. He was very sick. I was not the doctor taking care of him, but I walked to his bedside and took his hand. I said nothing. He was so sick, he didn’t know I was there. I’d read his Congressional Medal of Honor citation and wanted to shake his hand. He died a few days later.
    The gentleman who served with Merrill’s Marauders,
    The survivor of the Bataan Death March,
    The survivor of Omaha Beach
    The 101 year old World War I veteran
    The former POW held in frozen North Korea,
    The former Special Forces medic – now with non-operable liver cancer
    The former Viet Nam Corps Commander.
    I remember these citizens
    I may still groan when yet another ambulance comes in, but now I am much more aware of what an honor it is to serve these particular men and women.
    I have seen a Congress who would turn their back on these individuals who’ve sacrificed so much to protect our liberty. I see later generations that seem to be totally engrossed in abusing these same liberties, won with such sacrifice.
    It has become my personal endeavor to make the nurses and young enlisted medics aware of these amazing individuals when I encounter them in our Emergency Dept. Their response to these particular citizens has made me think that perhaps all is not lost in the next generation.
    My experiences have solidified my belief that we are losing an incredible generation, and this nation knows not what it is losing. Our uncaring government and ungrateful civilian populace should all take note. We should all remember that we must “Earn this.”
    Written By CPT. Stephen R. Ellison, M.D. US Army


  11. Carroll says:

    Well I have gone from studying the candidates to looking at what I think are both parties and Washington’s objectives in the compaigns and the election.
    The first thing I heard on the news this morning was some pundit still talking about how Obama’s speech gave people chills.
    What is giving me a chill is this campaign season and the candidates.
    When I listen to c-span most of the people calling in are talking about real issues, they are making sense. Most of them aren’t talking about race, sex and hope, they are asking for a realistic plans, results and accountability. They are saying..listen if we ordinary people can see the insanity and illogic in most of congress’s actions and what is happening out here in our real world why can’t they see it..what is the deal?
    Everyone hoped some big change would occur when the dems gained the majority, that didn’t happen. Now people are hoping again for change in a new president.
    It seems to me that out of all the remaining dem candidates the two who have talked in detail about the most fundmentaly critical things that might actually “change” something are Edwards and Clinton. On the repub side the least crazy one seems to be Romney.
    Yet both the political “establishment” and the media are determined to push and favor Obama, the now Kennedy machine and McCain, the neo machine.
    It seems that despite all the talk about change, this election is more about ensuring there is no change in the system in DC.
    All the change they talk about is a change in the public attitude, not a change in their system. They put the onus on us as a society to be better, not for the government be better. The theme is it’s about us and we must take control.
    So how do we do “take” control after we become better? Will DC listen to us any better after we become better? Will the disapproval ratings the public has given congress, the lowest in history, be taken seriously after “we” become a better society? They haven’t listened to us yet. As Pelosi said of congress.. “We are the Leaders”…the public are just the advocates.” We have already advocated…the leaders haven’t responded.
    The failings of both parties and the corruption of the system in general that is the source of our discontent and has been the public’s main complaint has been tossed like a hot potatoe back to the public.
    Now it’s about our failings as a society not theirs. The failed system will continue.
    Nice trick…I am not falling for it.


  12. Skulz Fontaine says:

    So if cameras shape “reality”, then all the televised world is a delusion?


  13. Steve Clemons says:

    Bill R. — Sorry you see this as a cheap shot. Since others in the media and elsewhere noticed, I think that it’s simply an empirical fact, not a cheap shot.
    And Forest Ranger’s point about Hillary Clinton snubbing others is a good point to make. I’m not aware of those times, but the record should be laid out in full to be fair to both.
    I remember speaking to Lech Walesa once and asked him which President he liked most. He told me he liked Reagan the most — his warmth, his humor, his jokes. But he learned much from Bill Clinton.
    Clinton kept Walesa waiting and waiting once during a meeting at the White House — and Walesa was furious….but when the meeting started, and the cameras came on, Clinton made it clear he was best of friends with Walesa, who realized then how fundamental cameras were in shaping reality.
    I think that the critiques of HRC and Obama about what they do off and on camera are useful as they need to learn now (particularly Obama as Hillary hasn’t had privacy in a while) that their privacy is over and that every moment on camera will be parsed.
    Best regards,
    Steve Clemons
    Steve Clemons


  14. Forest Ranger says:

    I would agree that Senator Obama should have shaken hands (especially in front of the cameras), but I would point out the following about Senator Clinton. Specifically, at earlier debates, she wouldn’t even acknowledge Sen. Obama, but Senator Clinton made a point to acknowledge Senators Dodd and Biden.


  15. Bill R. says:

    Another snide cheap shot at Obama, Steve.. Frankly I think he is exhibiting great gentlemanly control by not throttling Hillary on the spot, an instinct that she seems to inspire equally in so many American voters. It may also be that he wants to avoid the shiv that she would implant so firmly in his back with her other hand at the very moment he should deign to shake her hand.


  16. MarkL says:

    Obama does not control his bad temper—that is a poor quality in a candidate. It’s not a good thing Steve. In an earlier debate, when Hillary said that Obama had a lobbyist as his campaign chief (or whatever position) in NH, Obama shook his head angrily and muttered “not true”… but he couldn’t answer the charge.
    I just can’t believe anyone supports Obama, given his lack of qualifications, and the fact that Hillary has so much more mastery of the issues than Obama, as well as more qualifications.
    Note that he was kissing up to Bush later.


  17. John B. says:

    word up, dudes…
    well said,
    now watch this drive!


  18. Skulz Fontaine says:

    Oh and Steve? We are paying CLOSE attention to just about all of it. A number of high crimes and misdemeanors are possibly forgivable, but NOT TREASON! Not now and not ever. POA makes absolute the correct points. Our freaking future is at stake here and the Bush gang of war criminals have jeopardized America and our children’s America. Treasonous and lying sons-of-bitches each and every last traitorous one of them.


  19. Skulz Fontaine says:

    That’s right, Wolfy is back. Now there’s a nasty piece of war criminality if ever there was one. Wasn’t it simply treasonous what old Wolfy did to Gen. Shinseki? I think that an honorable man like Eric Shinseki should have kicked the bejesus out of a punk like Wolfy and been done with it. Thanks POA, I’d forgot about that whiny little war criminal. Damn, those Bushistas are an interminable bunch!


  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “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.”
    Steve, I’m happy to see you giving voice to this reality. The media is once again dropping the ball here, and not presenting this pseudo “success” for what it really is. In addition, the silence of these posturing cowards masquerading as presidential “candidates” on this issue is quite telling. Not one single candidate has underscored what a betrayal this so called “success” has been to the thousands of American soldiers that have died fighting the very factions that Bush has now allied us with. He has simply bought off and renamed yeterday’s “enemy”. Have we already forgotten the myriad of monickers this monkey of a President presented to us as labels through which to define our “enemy” in Iraq?
    “Former Baathists”, Sunni Insurgents”, “Saddam Loyalists”, blablablahblah…..
    Now, repackaged and renamed, these former “enemies”, the very entities we were told we were there to depose, are being tasked to dismantle the very Shiite regime we installed with Bush’s ill fated skit titled “The Democratization of Iraq”.
    What the fuck did Bush expect, giving power to the Shiite majority, that Iran wouldn’t see this as a gift from Allah?
    Meanwhile, these posturing pieces of shit trying to slime their way into the Oval office are completely silent about this charade of a “success” in Iraq, because they are soon to be in control of the puppet strings, and it works to their advantage to continue the charade, because the alternative to inheriting a “success” is inheriting a “failure”, a failure, I might add, that they will be blamed for, because it occurs on their watch, never mind the last five years Bush spent digging this hole.
    And by the way Steve, many of us ARE paying attention to Bush’s ongoing wrangling and manuevering in regards to the nuke/turkey issue, Edmonds’ allegations, and Wolfowitz’s new posting. I don’t believe in coincidences, and your silence about this is a bit inexplicable, considering your past interest in Wolfowitz’s dealings. Perhaps your loyalty to Grossman, as a freind, is clouding your perceptions and your ability to employ deductive reasoning. This issue is HUGE, and it can be no coincidence that Sibel’s public disclosure of her accusations are so closely followed by Bush’s rhetoric about givcing nuke technology to Turkey, and Wolfowitz’s being given his new position. Or perhaps someone asked you to drop the issue?


  21. Skulz Fontaine says:

    Would that George Bush could be “forgettable.” The man is mostly unremarkable except for that “lying” the U.S. into an illegal war. 935 lies seems on the face of it, at least impeachable. America’s staggering and growing national debt will be ‘remarkable’ far into our uncertain future. Would that Bush’s torture could be forgettable. Would that the loss of America’s civil liberties could be forgettable. Would that the treason, obstruction of justice, wholesale wanton slaughter, and outright corruption that are hallmarks of Bush and his gang of war profiteers could be forgettable. Sadly, none of it “forgettable.” Most of the Bush works will haunt America for an interminably long time. That Obama and Clinton hate one another seems ancillary in the overview. Hey Steve? If you happen on Tucker Carlson, ask him if America’s current demise on the global stage is one of those “ancillary benefits” that Carlson was so adamant about pre-Iraq genocide.


  22. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks Howard and Lina — good comments. It’s interesting that they shook hands together earlier — but that Obama didn’t sense the importance of the handshake when cameras are watching.


  23. lina says:

    According to Axelrod, he had already greeted her off camera somewhere.


  24. Howard Park says:

    I’m sure Obama will shake Hillary’s hand, on the podium in Denver, after Bill Clinton has gone back to good works instead of divisive politics. Obama did say in one of the debates that he wants Hillary to be an advisor. The place for engagement is during the hard work of governing, not the symbolic show that is the State of the Union.


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