As is often the case, President George W. Bush did not deliver as good a speech as he and his speech-writing team had written — but tonight's speech was definitely well written, and it was not badly delivered. The overall impression, I think, was pretty good. He still has a cadence that just somehow misses the target a little, but that's nitpicking. On substance, the speech had lots to recommend it, and the president deserves great credit for his steadfastness in pursuit of a noble, moral goal.
The opening lines of the speech, as written, were superb. The president wasted no time. He set a challenge for the American people, and in appropriately stark terms. To wit:
"Good evening. In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people. We are now at such a moment."
Such an immediate challenge to his listeners is a bit Churchill-esque. The president laid out the facts and the context well. He walked the listeners through the reasons for and beneficial (but sober, realistic, definitely not overstated) effects of the "surge." In a subtle shot at the press that simultaneously could have been a nice encapsulation of where things stand (this is one of the lines where Bush's delivery was only fair-to-middling, which is a shame, because it was a very good line), Bush said "These developments do not often make the headlines, but they do make a difference." It was also good that he mentioned — but he should have emphasized more, and detailed more — that 36 other nations have troops on the ground in Iraq. And the closing paragraph was very well done:
"Some say the gains we are making in
In the Democratic response, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who sometimes shows signs of respectability and decency, sank to demagoguery repeatedly, and he had a weird downward, frowny tilt to his mouth the whole time. The less said about his low blows, the better, except to note that he, like most other Democrats, failed to offer any alternative that sounded even remotely like a success in any way, shape, or form.
On Larry King after the show, Barack Obama was similarly prone to low blows. Then Rudy Giuliani came on, and he was terrific — pitch perfect. Frankly, he definied the mission more understandably and pithily than Bush did: to give the Iraqis safety and security so that we Americans can have an ally in the Middle East against Islamic terrorists. He noted that Iraq is making democratic gains at the local level that are greater than those at the national level, and said that is an encouraging sign because "democracy always works best from the bottom up, not the top down." He said the Democrats are "retreating and running away in Iraq." And, sounding very commonsensical (and with appropriate facial expressions) he praised Gen. Petraeus and said he's making progress, and said it only makes sense for us to say "let's give him a chance to succeed." Really good stuff.
Later on the same show, John McCain was good in substance but bad in tone and style. Whoever is giving him clothing advice is doing a terrible job. He was wearing a light-colored, blue-and white checked, open-collared shirt that, against a pale face and white head, made him look washed out and old. And his tone of voice was low and sort of weary-sounding. It was a shame, because nobody in public office has been as right on Iraq, every step of the way, as McCain has, and also because what he said was appropriately supportive of Bush and Petraeus (although he did seem to take inordinate delight in stressing a real hard criticism of former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld).
So… there is my report. Bush pretty good, McCain just okay, Giuliani terrific, Democrats irresponsible.
Folks, it is outrageous to suggest that we Americans can't win this fight. And we are now seeing real successes on the ground over there. Discussing anything other than victory is beneath us. Shame on those who talk about withdrawing troops without succeeding in the mission.
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