More On SOTU

Upon consideration, if it didn't soar, it was nonetheless a shrewd speech.

Examples in a sec, but first some preliminaries. First, whatever I think of this or that policy, Bush thinks like a Christian. By which I mean his policy goals and his stated reasons for them could have come straight from the second half of Deus Caritas Est. I don't mean to suggest that it's "Catholic" or "Christian" to support the war or make tax relief permanent --as B16 wrote, politics is a matter of practical reason, and it's not for the Church to prescribe solutions (there could even be more than one good solution). I simply mean that the speech reflects concerns beyond --though certainly not in opposition to-- "what's best for America." He may or may not be right about how to get there, but his interests might be expressed as a more just world and respect for the equal dignity of human beings. Hence his sustained attention to matters that "Conservatives" aren't generally known for caring much about --education, AIDS, Africa. (Spare me your heated emails; I'm speaking of intentions, not the merits of this or that idea.) The man thinks big.

Secondly, wouldn't it be fun to know who or what prompts his sly winks during the applause breaks?

Shrewd: could the Dems have
possibly looked worse during the speech? The contrast between the gracious President: kind words for Coretta Scott King, a jovial reference to President Clinton, the promise to do his part to maintain a civil tone (and who has ever heard him be uncivil? Well, except about Adam Clymer, and we weren't meant to hear). All of that was in striking contrast to the vicious things the Dem politicians say every day about him.

I guess that's what the commentators mean when they say Bush struck a conciliatory tone, but that's not precisely what I saw. He was uncompromising on defense: the Patriot Act, wire-tapping. He almost seemed to dare the Dems to continue their obfuscation. And of course there was this:

we have benefitted from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success [Joe Lieberman, Conservative critics], and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure [All other prominent Dems]. (Applause.) Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy. (Applause.)

That strikes me as a smack-down. And a second smack came when the Dems gave themselves a standing ovation for not passing Social-Security reform. By that time I was watching, and the President looked genuinely miffed at their fiddle-playing, which made his follow-up line seem like a rebuke to a bunch of unserious teenagers:Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security -- (applause) -- yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away. (Applause.) And every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.

He could have added "and every American watching tonight will remember your applause," but it probably wasn't necessary. The footage of the Dems sitting on their hands for solutions and applauding obstruction could be put to great effect in campaign ads this year.

Call me sentimental. Other commentators yawned at Bush's appeal to the Iranian people, but it still gives me chills even if he did say something similar last year. And the Conservatives are all mocking his alternative-energy ideas, but they've been there in some form since 2000 --I don't know why they're singled out for ridicule now. Bush is serious about untangling the Mid-East, and undoing our dependency on its oil would do wonders for both us and them. I'm not thrilled by government involvement in those efforts, but I give him credit for the way he's thinking. The only sour note in that section to my mind was the one that didn't sound --he should have insisted on developing our own oil sources, and I find it depressing he didn't think he could bring that up.