Andrew has the best line on the State of the Union address (but does he write it here? Noooooo...):
"I was shocked, shocked, to learn that the state of our union remains strong. I mean, really, what would it take for the President to say that the state of the union wasn't great? "
I thought it was one of Bush's better speeches. By this I mean: not one of the speeches in which Bush looks like a kid who is squirming until he's done and can go out and play, and not one of those nightmare speeches in which he says things that are flatly false in a way that suggests that he's addressing himself to a group of brain-danmaged second graders ("Our enemies are vicious people. They hate freedom. They don't want people to have a choice about who will govern them. That's why Hamas has launched a campaign of terror in the West Bank and Gaza. That's why there are death squads in Baghdad. And that's why that same enemy struck us on 9/11. Etc., etc., etc.")
It was, instead, a speech that might have impressed me if I had just beamed in from Jupiter. It was well-written and well-delivered. The beginning, about Nancy Pelosi, was quite gracious. Even the parts about earmark reform and energy policy might have impressed me if I didn't know anything about Bush's record on these issues.
The problem, of course, is that I do know about Bush's record. Bush is in a situation in which no speech he can give can really do the job. He has lost the confidence of the American people. People don't really trust him at all. He says that he has a plan to win the war; he has said that any number of times before. He says he's concerned about energy independence; Jim Webb claims that this is the seventh time Bush has mentioned energy independence in a state of the union message, and while I haven't gone back and checked, that sounds right.
When no one trusts you, more words will not alter that fact. You need to win their trust back, and no speech on earth can do that. You need action. And nothing I've seen from Bush to date suggests that he has the wisdom and leadership to get it right in Iraq, or the bare minimum of interest needed to do something good in domestic policy.
Jim Webb, by contrast was awesome:
"Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues - those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death - we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.
We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us - sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.
The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.
The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.
The damage to our reputation around the world.
The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism.
And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve."
Once again: my party makes me proud.
I don't know about you, but whenever I hear Bush talk about how much he appreciates the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform, I am reminded of this:
"In fairness, Bush has been candid about why he enlisted in the Air National Guard. Like many young men of his generation, he wanted to avoid Vietnam. He told one reporter, "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.""
Back in the day, he was more than willing for someone else to get shot at, and perhaps killed, in his place. I suppose that's one way of appreciating someone's sacrifice -- sort of like "I appreciate your business" -- but not the one we usually hope for in our leaders.
(Note: this is not a "chickenhawk" argument. I am not saying that people who haven't served don't get to comment on, or appreciate the sacrifice of, those who do. That would be silly. But I think it's different when you try to wriggle out of fighting in a war you support, when there is a draft in place. The draft means that you might be obligated to serve; it's not a matter of failing to volunteer. That you support the war means that you think it's a good idea for someone to fight and die in it. That you try to wriggle out of it means that even though you think it's fine for someone to fight and die, you want it to be someone else, not you; and that you don't just want this in the sense of hoping not to be drafted while being prepared to do your duty, but in the sense of taking steps to avoid going off to war.)
I don't really see any reason to think that Bush has changed in this respect. His irresponsible conduct of the war is evidence that he hasn't, as is this:
""He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow."
I don't think that anyone who had any idea what war was like, either for civilians caught in the crossfire or for the soldiers, would ever think of a war as a way of building up political capital. I mean: how could you possibly think anything of the kind?
In any case, whether he fully appreciates the horror of war, or the kind of sacrifice it can entail, is just not a question that comes up about Jim Webb. From his Navy Cross citation:
"Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker."
The contrast between Webb and Bush was the most striking thing about the speeches, as far as I was concerned.
What did you think?