State of the Union

Man, before I start in on the general discussion, it must be noted that Nancy Pelosi is mighty spry. She jumps up to applaud (selectively) with an impressive vigor. I mean, seriously, she’s bouncy.

Now, onto something more serious. President Bush delivered a speech that was well considered and (for a man who will never be considered one of our nation’s great orators) well delivered. It contained much that will irritate every side of the aisle (which works well to support his “uniter” self-image) and hopefully a bit to actually excite both sides of the aisle as well.

Starting with his symbolic olive branch by giving a wonderful nod to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi--a nod that was delivered with more grace and dignity than his political opponents usually afford him--and congratulating the Democrats on their victory was a smart way to acknowledge a very public defeat of Bush Republicans. It was a good way to start his “hands across the aisle” efforts, whether out of a sense of honest desire or simply out of necessity.

What is tough is that after six years of his presidency, it is sometimes tough to hear Bush without a sly smile. When he talks about a balanced budget being achieved without raising taxes, it is hard not to think about some of the more expensive Bush initiatives (the pill bill, of course, springs to mind) and wonder if a truly balanced budget would have been achievable without those expenditures. It’s funny, though, to watch the Democrats sitting and smirking through even the thought of trying to balance the budget without raising taxes. Hillary looked downright antagonistic to the very idea.

Which is, of course, one of the reasons I have a hard time voting for the left.

President Bush’s call for earmark reform, though, was wildly applauded on both sides of the aisle. Earmarks, though, are a bipartisan issue, of their own; in a bipartisan manner our leaders have supported earmarks as a way of spending far more of our money than I think is wise. I wonder how much of that applause will translate into Bush’s vision of exposing earmarks to the light of day? Call me cynical, but it’s one of those things that politicians regularly call for and rarely deliver.

Even less likely to be enacted--especially with a Democratic leadership bent on obstructionism--are sweeping reforms to Social Security and Medicare. Bush has wanted those reforms since he has been in office and, with a largely compliant Republican congress, was unable to attack meaningfully. Can anyone honestly expect that this will be easier to achieve with the new political climate?

Don’t get me wrong: Social Security and Medicare reform are two of the most important things that our country needs for future fiscal security. But my hopes are most likely to be disappointed.

There are other areas, too, that he is likely to be disappointed on. His call for school vouchers or No Left Behind. Although he’ll probably find an easier time in his urge to increase education expenditures in a fiscally responsible and no-new-taxes kind of way.

The one thing on the domestic agenda that was most interesting to me, though, was the Conservative Guide to Universal Health Care (in a fiscally responsible and no-new-taxes kind of way). This mix of lowered taxes in the form of tax credits, expanded health savings accounts, calls for cost transparency, liability reform, and support for association health plans actually provided an intriguing view of how mandated health care might struggle its way out of the socialized hell of unending entitlement and into a reality of something that actually is vaguely fiscally responsible.

Which, of course, means that everyone will hate the damned thing. I am personally intrigued enough that I would love to see the details.

On immigration, again, Bush is unlikely to make anyone happy. His calls for border integrity will be overshadowed by his call for a temporary worker program to relieve pressure on border security (an argument I actually find somewhat convincing). What will find bipartisan support, I think, is a call to hold corporations accountable for their hiring practices--although I wonder how this entire, not-entirely-coherent view of immigration reform might work without “animosity or amnesty”. Even if the guest worker program were approved, it would be hard to sell that as anything other than a form of amnesty.

Of course, the meat of the speech is in foreign policy (in particular, the war on terror and the “surge"). The tone of his delivery doesn’t reflect desperation, but the content can’t be far off that mark. As much as I agree with his belief that we must “take the fight to the enemy"--even the Democrats stood for that line--and as much as I still believe that Iraq is not unwinnable--I can’t help but wonder how much time he has to try to enact meaningful changes to affect changes in Iraq.

If anything can do the trick, though, it’s throwing terrorists’ words our way. “We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams...” Understanding the earnestness of that statement, understanding the patience that underlies the statement should leave us fearful. Instead, I think that much of the country is merely weary.

But in understanding Bush’s call for helping moderates and reformers around the world resonates deeply for me, especially having recently read Natan Sharansky’s powerful The Case for Democracy. The moral and pragmatic case to be made for supporting liberalism around the world is compelling--and what is said in the State of the Union Address is not only for our ears. Much of what is said is messages of support or warning to people around the world.

Those reformers--and the leaders in Iran, Syria, and North Korea--hear these words and put meaning to them, too.

But America may have a hard time finding the will to support those words. The Bush “Surge” plan received the chilly reception that would have been expected by anyone who has watched polls over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, the focus seems to stray on the numbers and ignore the change in tactics that are the most important part of the plan.

One thing that Bush seems to realize, though, that other politicians either do not understand or are willfully ignoring, is that our war is a generational commitment. This is the biggest reason that I voted for his second term; like the Cold War, this war against Islamic extremists is one that will not be won or lost on a single battlefield or without long term sacrifice. And, like the Cold War, that also means that we will suffer through errors and successes, good and bad leadership, to come to a place where we can finally claim victory.

A Kerry presidency could have worked hard to derail that commitment.

Mostly, I hope that America isn’t as weary as she seems. Americans, it has always seemed to me, respond to strong leadership. Bush has very little time left to prove that he is the leader who can take us to victory in Iraq.

As a Side Note: I’m writing this while taking notes on American Idol--which is a little surreal…

So, on a more up note, I have to say that I always love the introduction of the Presidential guests. I was doubly pleased to see Dikembe Mutombo, one of my favorite former Nuggets (and current Houston Rocket). And, along with Einstein creator, Julie Aigner-Clark, and just all-around great guy, Wesley Autry (and, no, heroic isn’t a stretch for what this gentleman did for a stranger), these are great examples of Bush’s vision of America. It’s that vision that I’m going to close with, because it is that vision with which I whole-heartedly agree.

And that is my view of America. Filled with people from such disparate walks of life, often having come here from other countries, volunteering and working not just for their own benefit but with a spirit of generosity for the people around them. That is the beautiful spirit of America--a spirit that doesn’t obey partisan politics and isn’t found solely in people of any one religion. An imperfect people, to be sure, but bent on doing and being good.