A few quick reactions to the State of the Union address before we read others' thoughts.
Overall, Bush's speech was, as expected, long on rhetoric and short on specifics. The President showed little energy or enthusiasm. And clearly, much of Congress didn't embrace much of what he had to say.
On energy independence and climate change, the President talked a good game, but again gave out few specifics. He stated a goal of reducing gasoline use by 20 percent over the next decade, largely by expanding production of biofuels fivefold over the same period. These are not bad goals, but he didn't say how he'd accomplish them. Apart from those goals, however, the President posited no specifics--it was more a wish that somehow the country would achieve energy independence and fight global warming in spite of, instead of because of, anything he or the government might do.
On health care, Bush again proposed expanding Health Savings Accounts. Give us a break--these accounts are great for rich folks, but they do nothing--absolutley nothing--for people who are currently uninsured.
On Iraq, Bush once again tried to make the link between the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. Most of us know, however, that our invasion and occupation of Iraq turned it into a haven for terrorists. We created a problem where there was none. Meanwhile, the Iraq quagmire has prevented us from a single-minded focus on real issues of terrorism, and has created more terrorists than when the war began.
Bush ended his address with speech by anecdote, pointing to four outstanding individual Americans and showcasing their achievements, NONE of which had anything to do with any policy or program the President put in place (okay, the wounded serviceman from Iraq was a result of his failed policies). While these are nice inspiring stories, they're complete fluff, having nothing to do with what the President plans to accomplish in the remainder of his term.
The Democratic response was given by freshman Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Just before Webb spoke, NBC's Brian Williams reported that Webb "tore up" the draft given him by the Democratic Party and wrote his own response from scratch. Good for Webb!
It was a great response, delivered in Webb's typical understated style. It was blunt and to the point, which we've come to expect from Webb, who is not given to nonsense.
In keeping with Webb's own key campaign issues, he addressed two points: economic fairness and the Bush administration's failed foreign policy.
He had some good lines. The American people, Webb said, have "patiently endured a mismanaged war" in Iraq. That is certainly true. A huge majority now views the war as a mistake and wants it to end. Yet, to date, protests have been small and orderly and the public has managed to maintain support for the troops, doing their impossible job, while disdaining the decisionmaking of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their ilk.
We are "now as a nation held hostage" to the war in Iraq. True again. With our armed forces bogged down in the dusty streets of Baghdad, we're not able to hunt down Osama Bin Laden; we're not able to threaten Iran and North Korea; we're not able to stop genocide in Darfur. And our international standing is at rock bottom around the world.
Webb called for diplomacy and a withdrawal of our troops from the streets of Baghdad (i.e., to secure bases within or near Iraq) as a prelude to bringing them home. It's still incredible to us that Bush has simply rejected the notion of diplomatic talks with Iran and Syria without even trying.
Webb also noted that in every one of Bush's state of the union addresses he has called for "energy independence." What he could have added is that under Bush's leadership we are even more addicted to oil today than we were when Bush was elected, in large part due to the awful energy bill pushed through by Bush, Cheney and the Republican Congress.
For once we have reason to be hopeful after one of these depressing Bush speeches. This time, Congress is in Democratic hands. God knows, the Democrats won't be perfect. But at least now we have a chance to make some forward progress on a wide range of important issues.