As State of the Union addresses go, last night’s was pretty good. Anchored by the ever-important restatement of the President’s bold foreign policy vision, the speech made the apparently inevitable devolution into a domestic policy laundry list with relative grace: Just as the foreign policy section pitted tough engagement with the world against an isolationist foreign policy, the economic policy section pitted “keeping America competitive” against an isolationist economic policy. (Whether or not isolationism really describes the dominant challenges to Bush’s policies is certainly open to debate; my point here is simply the rhetorical elegance of the construction.) But the real political strength of the speech was in how it forced the worst stereotypes of the Democratic Party into the foreground by virtue of the opposition’s reactions.
Take the passage where the President threw down the gauntlet on the NSA spying issue:
The Republican half of the chamber rose in standing ovation. What did the Democratic half of the chamber do? Stayed seated, with Hillary Clinton shaking her head and smiling. Democrats are intent on framing this issue as a case of Bush breaking the law to spy on Americans. (Liberal writers routinely state flatly that the program was illegal, as if this were a simple fact rather than a deduction from speculation about how the program actually worked.) Democrats very much do not want to be seen as arguing against fighting al-Qaeda. Yet here they were, appearing to side against the notion that we want to know about al-Qaeda’s communications.
There were other moments in the national security section of the speech when Democrats stayed seated at politically inopportune times, but the most striking moment of the speech was when they simply handed the President a gift. Consider Bush’s lines about Social Security:
This commission should include Members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan answers. We need to put aside partisan politics, work together, and get this problem solved.
On paper, this is a retreat: a tepid non-policy has replaced the ambitious ideas laid out at last year’s address. But the Democrats clapped and hooted as soon as Bush said “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security,” giving Bush an opening to turn his bromide into a scathing attack: When he said “partisan politics,” he had a visual aid to point to.
Suddenly it was as if Bush said “we mustn’t act like clowns,” and the entire Democratic caucus had shown up in multicolor wigs and greasepaint.
Though not in much danger of losing either chamber of Congress this November, the GOP is playing defense this year against the very real prospect of a diminished majority, and many congressmen are reluctant to bring anything big and controversial into their electoral fights this year.
There’s no denying that the relatively small-bore agenda that the President laid out last night was a sign of political weakness. But if the scene in the Capitol was any indication, Republicans do still have one thing going for them: They’ll be running against Democrats.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?