The state of the union.

Of course it’s difficult for me to get past my overall contempt for Bush and see the real message behind his words, but I gave it an honest effort and still found myself unimpressed.

First he talked about balancing the budget. “Look how great we’re doing: we’ve cut the deficit in half! And we’re going to eliminate it in only five more years!” Never mind that the government was running a surplus before he hit the Oval Office, and I guess we’re supposed to ignore the fact that in five years (thankfully) he’ll be out of office so it won’t be his problem. It felt like one of those tired and empty campaign promises we hear every few years from candidates.

His next topic was Social Security and Medicare. I think all of us here agree that SS should be privatized in some fashion, and although he didn’t use that word I’m not sure how else it can be “saved”. I seem to recall him throwing down the gauntlet about Social Security a few States of the Union ago, but nothing has really happened. I can’t believe this time will be any different. Again, I have to rate this as an empty and worthless promise. Well, heck, it wasn’t even a promise– it was more of a challenge to someone, maybe Congress. Who knows.

His touch on No Child Left Behind did in fact leave something behind: a bad taste in my mouth. The program is a disaster on so many levels it’s not worth going into.

Launching into health insurance, he seems to think we can slash taxes of lower-income families so they can turn around and write ever-larger checks to the insurance companies. Even though I’m not an economist it seems to me that we’re not solving the problem here. Losing more tax revenue makes the deficit question even fuzzier. Moreover, the real problem (in my mind) is the out-of-control cost of health care. I read the other day that Gov. Arnold is working on some interesting socialized medicine things in the Golden State, and it sounds like Bush was giving him a nod and suggesting that be expanded. I’m not sure where I stand on that.

Oh, and border patrols. It’s funny to hear Bush, or any politician for that matter, put spin on immigration laws. How do you say “we don’t want you here, you dirty foreigners” without saying it? There’s a problem down south that isn’t going to go away with a gazillion more INS troopers. As with Social Security, this was another revival of a promise/challenge Bush issued a while ago with no subsequent action.

Then we moved into energy conservation, which I strongly support. I agreed with his goals here, but my cynical side questions whether it’ll ever really happen. I fear it will take a serious petroleum crisis to actually push Americans into alternative fuels, so we can sit around and talk about how fabulous solar power is but we only do it while plowing around in our 4MPG trucks. Bush has lofty goals here, and I hope they stick.

It was only a matter of time before we hit the Terrorist part of the speech. Sure enough, when the moment came I heard all of the usual lines: “war on terror”, “nine eleven”, “September morning”. He even quoted Osama with that “death is better” line he’s so fond of repeating. Yawn. Oh, and when he mentioned the brave British police forces who stopped the Evil Plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights I stifled a laugh: that was the Lamest Plot Ever, it wouldn’t have worked, and it led to the silliness that we have now where I can’t take my lip balm on a plane unless it’s in a one-quart clear plastic resealable bag. To brag about that as a major triumph of the War on Terror is just ludicrous and makes Bush look like he’s desperately reaching for something, anything, to hold up as a triumph.

Did anyone else catch the part where he shifted gears and talked about how Iran is a breeding ground for more Bad Guys? It was very smooth. I expect more attacks on Cambod– err, I mean Iran– very soon now.

It’s hard to say, but I think the Terrorist part of the speech lasted as long as everything else combined. In the end it just felt like he was pulling out every catch-phrase and emotional term to justify a move that’s almost universally condemned. I don’t think he changed any minds with his appeal for support. He needs to listen to those generals with whom he “consulted closely”, rather than defying them and the commission.

All in all, I was disappointed but not at all surprised. It’s the same rhetoric, the same spin, the same failed policies. There’s nothing bright and shiny on the horizon, kids, so let’s all go back to slogging through the morass of bloated government, hyper-inflated health care, slaughter and destruction, and fearmongering.

Sigh. The state of the union.