Like Josh Marshall the opening caught my attention. First an up note:
Tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own — as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker.
Five paragraphs later:
Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate — and I congratulate the Democrat majority.
The text, of course, records the correct use of Democratic. Pretty hard to explain. Either he consciously slipped in a little reminder of the contempt in which he holds his political opponents or he lacks the self-discipline to keep it from getting through anyway.
Generally I just used the Pelosi Meter to judge whether this speech will be the last time we ever hear about a given proposal. If Pelosi sat still it will probably disappear into the memory hole. If Pelosi applauded politely then it might appear in some Democratic bill in a form that the president won’t like. If she put some force into it then there’s room for compromise and if Pelosi stood up then there’s a distant chance that everybody but Tom Tancredo will come away satisfied.
It goes without saying that we won’t hear anything about Social Security “reform” until next year’s SOTU, if then. Some variety of immigration reform seems likely and I see an opportunity for alternative energy, although strangely not for ethanol (guess she doesn’t want to be president someday). 80% or more of the president’s healthcare plan looks DOA, which is fine by me. Neither health savings accounts nor the new tax proposals do a blessed thing to fix our mangled system. They’re like some funhouse parody of ideology over practicality.
In foreign policy there just wasn’t much meat on the bone. The president’s own party gave only polite applause to escalation talk. I guess we’ve all heard the rhetoric about how supporting American kids dying in Iraq means supporting George Bush too many times already for it to have much of an impact. Weirdly the president seems to think that we’re fighting every major ethnic group in the mideast, which must have made the Joint Chiefs feel good about escalating our presence there. At least he can now tell Sunni from Shia.
Regarding Iran, what is there to say? If we won’t talk to them and we won’t attack them (or so says the administration, unconvincingly) then it’s hard to see what there is to do. Apparently the president, whose base considers the UN useless, plans to stake the future of the mideast on more sanctions. That should go over well. We could go on attacking Iranian interests in Iraq, even though the Iraqis seem violently opposed to the idea and evidence of actual Iranian meddling appears slim to none. Could be Iran will take the bait and retaliate, though I doubt it.
Bush registered pro forma dissatisfaction with genocide in Darfur and AIDS in Africa without proposing to do anything about it. Sadly that actually counts as an improvement when doing something has meant assuaging the theocratic base by cutting condoms and safe sex counseling out of our aid packages.
In general the speech left me lukewarm, like he’s treading water. He came, he went and my guess is that the event will disappear into the pond of history without leaving many ripples.
The New York Times seconds my feeling about Bush’s speech. Also, I forgot to bring up Jim Webb’s reply – it was a great speech. At the time it seemed to me like Webb was basically declaring that the policy apparatus isn’t a one-way street anymore. Meaning, if the president doesn’t soon get America out of this Iraq mess then the Democrats will find a way to do it for him. By itself that’s a pretty ballsy move, on top of which his delivery was pretty good. I would prefer if media outlets had swooned over the substance rather than the delivery, but as long as they’re swooning… It seems likely that Webb’s response will leave ripples.