I expect a good speech. I’ve thought all of Bush’s State of the Union speeches have been good, actually. Will there be any surprises tonight? I doubt it. Word is that two voters will be present, one from Afghanistan and one from Iraq. Seems like pretty modest stagecraft, and maybe we’ll see something more dramatic. But my guess is that while President Bush will be positive, he will also be careful not to come across as triumphant. The last thing he wants is another “mission accomplished” moment. So I expect the tone to be upbeat but low-key.
The most fun, I expect, will be watching the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi made a graceless comment a few days ago, to the effect that she doesn’t expect much of a speech, but several hundred Republicans will cheer no matter how mediocre Bush is. Watch for Hillary Clinton to look sicker tonight than she did in Buffalo.
8:02–I love this part. Laura Bush just sat down with the anticipated two voters.
8:06–Here comes President Bush. I just saw some Republican Congressmen with blue fingers. Corny, of course, but what the heck.
8:08–They can keep clapping for a while, as far as I’m concerned!
8:10–Interesting–he includes the Palestinian territories and Ukraine along with Afghanistan and Iraq. Blue fingers in the air.
8:11–The state of the union is confident and strong. That’s the basic tone–it’s true, and effective. A joke about his gray hair–a good way to get into Social Security.
8:13–He recites the economic record of the last four years. Might as well; viewers won’t hear it anywhere else.
8:14–Spending discipline to cut the deficit. Enthusiastic applause from the Republicans, grudging claps from the Dems. They have to go through the motions of caring about the deficit, I guess.
8:16–The first standing ovation, for some vague and incomprehensible comments about health care. I’d like to see a constitutional amendment prohibiting the federal government from having anything to do with medical care, and prohibiting all politicians from mentioning the subject.
8:19–So far, it’s pure platitudes. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but it doesn’t do much for me.
8:20–The first glimpse of Hillary. I was right. Not only did she look sick, she didn’t applaud the idea of a pro-growth tax code that is fair to all.
8:21–Finally, Social Security. For anyone over 55, the system won’t change. He uses the word “bankrupt,” not a bad choice. A few rogue Democrats clap when he says benefits are slated for big increases. He’s making one of the basic points: there are fewer and fewer workers per retiree. There has been way too much talk about “crisis” vs. “serious problem.” The Democrats boo when he says the system will be bankrupt by a certain date. Are they Luddites? Or just delusional?
8:25–Yes! Sock it to ’em. “If you have children in their twenties, the prospect of Social Security collapsing before they retire is not a small matter. And it should not seem like a small matter to Congress.” Ouch.
8:28–Good idea to cite various proposals to fix SS, mostly from Dems. For now, at least, he’s pretty much agnostic. The real problem, of course, is the transition to a new system. This isn’t the fault of the new system; it is what makes Social Security such a diabolically bad system. It’s like a drug addiction; there is no convenient opportunity to terminate the program. Why personal accounts are a better deal: rate of return is always a big argument, but the more important point, I think, is ownership. The money is yours, and the government can never take it away. You can pass it on. I think that’s the point that has to be pounded home.
8:31–Federal employees already have it, of course–great point to keep hammering on.
8:32–The first surprise so far. He supports an amendment to protech marriage. It looks like pretty much all of the Republicans are standing up, few or none of the Democrats.
8:33–Human life should never be bought and sold as a commodity. Even the Democrats have to stand up for that one.
8:35–The Democrats sit on their hands for the proposition that all judicial nominees deserve a Senate vote. I guess the battle lines are clearly drawn on that one. The “nuclear option” is no longer looking nuclear. Watch for it.
8:36–Is it just me, or is the phrase “at risk youth” deeply offensive?
8:37–The thing I always hate about these speeches is how they reveal the obsolescence of the concept of limited government. It’s one damn program after another.
8:39–Thank goodness. It’s on to foreign policy. On the offensive against terrorists–the essence of Bush’s Presidency–draws a standing O from the Democrats. They don’t mean it, of course, but it’s always interesting to see which parts of the program they have to pretend to be on board with.
8:45–This is the good stuff. Freedom vs. terrorism; Zarqawi’s war on democracy. “The ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” “The advance of freedom will lead to peace.” Empirically, that statement has a very good track record.
8:46–A democratic Palestine living side by side with a democratic Israel–a goal that is within reach. Well, maybe. My own guess is that the reform of the Arab world will have to be very far advanced before anything good will happen with the Palestinians.
8:48–A few years ago it was the Axis of Evil. Now it’s Syria. Iran, too. And finally: a message for the Iranian people. “As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.” I’ve never understood why we don’t do more of this.
8:53–Good stuff on the Iraqi election. “They have earned the respect of us all.” Frankly, with the way events have gone over the past year, that respect has been understandably lacking. That started to change on Sunday, I think. More good stuff–the Iraqi human rights activist is introduced.
8:56–The stuff on the benefits of Iraqi freedom is powerful. Back to back shots of Hillary and John Kerry applauding, but not looking happy. Kerry looks sick, too.
8:57–A tribute to the troops–good climax. The Sgt. Norwood story is powerful. Mrs. Norwood gets a grateful hug and thanks from the Iraqi woman next to Laura Bush. Planned or not, it’s the missing bit of stagecraft. The applause goes on and on, as it should.
On the whole, an excellent job. Bush came out swinging on the two key issues: Social Security and the benefits of the war in Iraq. As usual, the President is his own best spokesman. He made the Social Security case well, but punted, essentially, on the transition issue. For now, though, that’s probably the right approach. Sell people on the need for and desirability of change, then work with Congress on the details. And on Iraq, he was impassioned and effective. The embrace between the Iraqi activist and Mrs. Norwood was powerfully emotional and symbolic, summing up at once the sacrifice, the purpose and the progress of the Iraq war. And reminding us that the military is overwhelmingly behind this President.
UPDATE: I’m not live-blogging the Democrats’ response, so I’ll just second Betsy Newmark’s observations.
FURTHER UPDATE: I will add this: I haven’t seen Nancy Pelosi much, but does she always look like this? Her affect seems very strange–she looks frightened, almost panicked. For a moment she tried to smile, and it was a complete failure. Mrs. Rocket is speculating about plastic surgery and botox. I don’t know, maybe so, but it struck me as a very odd performance.
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