Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union revue

States of the Union are like children: I love them all. Each year is defined by its own unique little tension. In 2004 it was the Joint Chiefs refusing to clap; last year it was the Democrats booing; this year it's a toss-up between the Applause War that raged between Nancy Pelosi and the Republicans or the eerie lack of applause during the section on Iraq. The sole constant in this whole process is the look of complete exasperation carved on the face of Hilary Clinton. Yes, I love them all.

I'm not sure where this whole thing came from that we're all now suddenly supposed to embrace the Green movement, but I like it. Sam Seaborn says: "Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all."

I also don't get the President's bold new plan to balance the budget; haven't gotten it since he announced it a couple weeks ago. I haven't examined his plan in depth, so perhaps that explains my confusion, but his belief that we can balance the budget while still cutting taxes sort of strikes me on its face as an exercise in defying logic. That's like saying you're going to pay off your credit card debt by quitting your job. I'm really not sure there's $9 trillion worth of wasteful federal spending going around...especially in a time when we need more, not less, government spending. Forget universal health care or public schools that don't rank dead last and just focus on the two wars we're waging.

Mostly, though, I want to talk about the speechwriting, because for such an important address, it was pretty bad. The Iraq section was okay, but the earlier parts made some odd choices. Like the very first line: "Tonight I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: 'Madame Speaker.'" He took a moment that was supposed to be about Nancy Pelosi and made it about himself.

A more substantive example was when the President was talking about public schools. "We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools...and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose some place better." I think you meant the means to choose someplace better, George. They already have the right; there's no law that prevents parents from sneding their children to private school. But you're really talking about vouchers here. You're beef is that they don't have the means to do so.

I also thought this part was weak: "We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country — without animosity and without amnesty." I think he really should have said "without animosity BUT ALSO without amnesty," so as to juxtapose these two seemingly competing values and to lend weight to his anti-amnesty stance.

I'm not really sure what was up with the ending. "Now it's time to close my major policy address with some fun anecdotes about some people I know." Wesley Autrey, the Subway Hero, had my undying respect, up until the point he showed up at the State of the Union. Struttin' in front of Congress? Chronically pointing to Bush with the whole world watching? "The President is my dawg, yo!" A little much. The President says, "There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey," and I can't help but ponder how those are two adjectives that could never be applied to him.

And when did Dikembe Mutumbo become an example of the American spirit? He's not even American. The White House really couldn't find more than three natural citizens to parade in front of Congress? They had to resort to immigrants? Really? I also like the sentiment that when black people try to be doctors in this country we stick basketballs in their hands so they can entertain us instead. No one's probably going to extract that message other than me, but it's definitely there, lurking, just waiting for a social-conflict theorist to pry it free.


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