Carolinian – Speakeasy
Issue: 2/11/02

Weekly Washington Dreck
By Andrew Strickland

So I turned on ABC a few nights ago to hear the time-honored State of the Union address, the very rare instance in which President Bush can directly communicate with the public without background commentary or media influences. Bush must know that this is a rare occasion, so the speech and its message had better be profound, uplifting, and eloquent.

But this is President Bush we’re talking about. “Eloquent” is a term that seems absent from two generations/presidencies of the family tree, leaving the annual State of the Union address a complete washout.

So what was said? “[America] is winning the war on terror.” Okay, sounds familiar. “[America should] press on,” presumably after the September 11th attacks. I got the strangest feeling of déjà vu watching this almost cut-and-paste approach to public speaking. How many times has the phrase “war on terrorism” been uttered? How about “America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security?” We’ve seen these phrases—in newscasts, in previous presidential speeches, in papers nationwide. To Bush’s credit, he knows his audience well. He knows that these phrases or words i.e. terrorism, patriotism, etc. evoke strong emotions in the audience and are a strong element of persuasion. So he uses these words and phrases over and over and over again—in my opinion, about 100 times too many.

But the central issue is not the repetition of these phrases. If “Don’t Mess With Texas” was used 100 times in an otherwise topically balanced speech, I’d be happy. But this speech is by no means balanced. I watched the State of the Union Address in its entirety. I saw every standing ovation, every smirk, and every introduction of guest attendees. Yes, that probably makes me a political hack. But that’s beside the point. The State of the Union address is approximately 45 minutes long. Of that time, the opening 25 and closing 10 minutes were about foreign policy and terrorism/war related issues, leaving only 10 minutes to speak about the wide range of domestic issues we currently face i.e. the economy, education, taxes, Enron, the environment. All of these were covered in a space of approximately ten minutes. The end result was, well, less-than-convincing.

Concerning the Enron investigation, Bush says that “corporate America must be held accountable to its shareholders” but doesn’t mention the word “Enron” per se. Pretty slick—considering the speech never says HOW corporate America can be held accountable. Bush also summed up his economic security plan in the word “jobs.” He also pledged a “quality teacher in every classroom.” How? Through a “major recruiting drive,” which doesn’t really guarantee the pledge he’s made.

Bush also announced the launch of “Freedom Corps,” a volunteer organization intended to “spot danger” and further aid rescue workers, pledging that the amount of volunteers will “double.” How can you promise these things? How can you guarantee the number of volunteer workers? How can you say that a “quality teacher” will be in every classroom without making some sort of national standard? Again, the speech only skims the surface of domestic issues—leading me to suspect that the Administration still has little say in the direction of said problems. Such issues as farm production, the environment, and faith-based charities are mentioned in approximately 10 words altogether. Indeed, Bush admits the “focus of his budget” will be towards bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security, and improved intelligence. Fair enough. Of course it’s important to protect the boundaries and infrastructure of this country by our available means. But how does the United States intend to PAY for such initiatives? Bush says the country will run a “small and short-term” deficit. Pardon me for a minute if I scoff. As our country has seen throughout its history, “deficit”, “small”, and “short-term” are about as compatible terms as “John Ashcroft” and “racial harmony.” Only recently has the United States fiscal policy recovered from “trickle-down economics,” a policy disaster implemented in the Reagan era that nearly tripled the national debt.

Of course, that’s what politicians do. They make promises. They try to appease audiences. They appeal to the public using oft-repeated phrases. It’s all a part of maintaining a positive relationship with the public. At least in prior administrations, it wasn’t so painfully obvious.