I used to write about politics fairly often on this site. And then a funny thing happened: Bush got re-elected. Please note that, by “funny,” I don’t mean funny “hah hah” or funny “strange,” but funny “GODDAMMIT WTF??!!!”
But while the reaction of a lot of progressives to the election was to withdraw from the system and become apathetic about politics altogether, I decided to do something about it. I wrote this rousing essay, where I urged democrats to “dig in your heels, roll up your sleeves, gird your loins and get ready to fight, like the rest of us intend to do.” And then, several seconds after having raged against the machine by hitting “Post,” I withdrew from the system and became apathetic about politics altogether.
I didn’t mean to. But on the following morning I decided that I was sick of post-election analysis and opted to forego NPR and instead listen to KEXP during my morning commute. The problem here, ladies and gentlemen, is that KEXP rocks the fuck out, and after after a few days of listening to it even a married and beinfanted guy like me starts to feel like he’s kind of cool, and will continue to remain cool as long as he never, ever listens to “Morning Edition” again. I have therefore spent my mornings since listening to “Pretty Girls Make Graves” instead of Steve Inskeep. And this, combined with the fact that I never watch TV and stopped reading political blogs, has left me fairly ignorant (and blissful) about the current state of the body politic.
But since yesterday encompassed both Groundhogs Day and the State of the Union address, I figured I’d poke my head out of my hole, take a look around, and decide how many more weeks I was going to hibernate. So I watched the SOTU.
Overall I thought it was a pretty good speech: specific at times, poetic in others, well-written and well-delivered. I have no doubt that it was essentially an hour of ad copy chock full of distortions and exaggerations that stop just shy of out-and-out falsehood, but I expect that of any SOTU, regardless of who’s on the dais. I mean, c’mon: what President is going to get up there and say “members of Congress, fellow citizens: the state of our Union is fair-to-middling.”
- Words into the speech before Bush boasts about getting re-elected: 19. Words into the speech before Bush boasts about the successful election in Iraq: 54.
- “When action was needed, the Congress delivered — and the nation is grateful.” I hate it when politicians get up in front of the nation and announce what the nation feels. Do they think they can just bully the weak-minded into adopting the specified emotion? “My fellow Americans, these are not the droids the nation is looking for.”
- So let me get this straight: we reform Social Security by gradually phasing in a system where people can voluntarily invest a portion of their money into the stock market in preparation for retirement. But people can already voluntarily invest in the market, for retirement or otherwise. The difference, here, is that people will be paying less into S.S. (with the rest going into the market) — and, consequentially, getting less of a payout directly from S.S. So am I wrong in thinking that this reform basically amounts to massive scaling back of Social Security, with the Administration trying to disguise this fact by claiming that any profit a person makes investing his own money in the market is, in fact, a S.S. benefit? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that’s got to be one of the most convoluted ways to avoid admitting you’re gutting a program in recent history.
- “I have a message for every American who is 55 or older … for you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.” Wow, that sucks for Morgan Fairchild, who turned 55 today. I guess she missed out.
- Apparently the First Lady is going to personally “take on gang life”. It will be just like West-Side Story.
Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!
When you’re a Bush
You’re a Bush all the way
From your fake Texas twang
To your three naps a day …
- “As we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases [of HIV], African American men and women.” Honestly curious: I wonder what the rationale is for having him say “African American men and women” instead of just “African Americans”. Just a better cadence?
- “We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy — and chief among them is freedom from fear.” Oh, we’re free from fear now? You guys spent that last three years sounding the terror alert every Thursday and insisting that Saddam Hussein was 14 minutes away from acquiring Giant Carnivorous Robots, but now that Bush is re-elected I guess we’re in the clear.
- Two paragraphs later: “The al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders … there are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists … there are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction … our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many, and intimidate us all …” Wow, that freedom from fear was awesome while it lasted!!
- “Thank you, and may God bless America.” Wait, don’t you usually say “and may God continue to bless America”? Did God stop blessing us at some point in the last few months? Was it because of the Ashlee Simpson debacle?
- This seemed the least macho and jingoistic of the SOTUs Bush has given, no doubt because it’s the first in a spell that wasn’t almost entirely devoted to one war (Terror) or another (Iraq). You can’t really say “we’re gonna hunt down opponents of social security reform, and we … will .. kill them.”
One last observation. I’m not a knee-jerk Bush-hater (I have to work at it), but whenever Bush would deliver some guaranteed applause-generating line and then smile smugly at the predictable results, I found myself profoundly irked. As Johnathan Chait points out in this New Republic essay, the thing that infuriates many people about Bush is the way he seems to honestly believe he worked his way to the top, despite all the strings that have been pulled on his behalf over the years. Or, as Jim Hightower succinctly put it, “He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” And that smile, throughout the SOTU, just reinforced this impression in the minds of people like me. Here’s Dubya, delivering a amply-rehearsed speech that he didn’t write in front of a aggressively receptive and obsequious audience, smarming out unarguable platitudes like “taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely or not at all,” and when people whoop and applaud he beams like he just ad-libbed an exceptionally clever riposte at a cocktail party. Drives, me, nuts.
But, man, don’t even get me started on the Democratic response:
“I’m Harry Reid, and when I was your age you could buy horehound candy at the Searchlight general store for a ha’penny.”
“I AM ... CYBERNETIC 0RGANISM ... N-PEL0SI ... WITH A MESSAGE ... F0R THE PE0PLE 0F EARTH ...“