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Thoughts On The SOTU

I used to write about politics fairly often on this site. And then a funny thing happened: Bush got re-elected. Please note that, by "funny," I don't mean funny "hah hah" or funny "strange," but funny "GODDAMMIT WTF??!!!"

But while the reaction of a lot of progressives to the election was to withdraw from the system and become apathetic about politics altogether, I decided to do something about it. I wrote this rousing essay, where I urged democrats to "dig in your heels, roll up your sleeves, gird your loins and get ready to fight, like the rest of us intend to do." And then, several seconds after having raged against the machine by hitting "Post," I withdrew from the system and became apathetic about politics altogether.

I didn't mean to. But on the following morning I decided that I was sick of post-election analysis and opted to forego NPR and instead listen to KEXP during my morning commute. The problem here, ladies and gentlemen, is that KEXP rocks the fuck out, and after after a few days of listening to it even a married and beinfanted guy like me starts to feel like he's kind of cool, and will continue to remain cool as long as he never, ever listens to "Morning Edition" again. I have therefore spent my mornings since listening to "Pretty Girls Make Graves" instead of Steve Inskeep. And this, combined with the fact that I never watch TV and stopped reading political blogs, has left me fairly ignorant (and blissful) about the current state of the body politic.

But since yesterday encompassed both Groundhogs Day and the State of the Union address, I figured I'd poke my head out of my hole, take a look around, and decide how many more weeks I was going to hibernate. So I watched the SOTU.

Overall I thought it was a pretty good speech: specific at times, poetic in others, well-written and well-delivered. I have no doubt that it was essentially an hour of ad copy chock full of distortions and exaggerations that stop just shy of out-and-out falsehood, but I expect that of any SOTU, regardless of who's on the dais. I mean, c'mon: what President is going to get up there and say "members of Congress, fellow citizens: the state of our Union is fair-to-middling."

Some notes:

  • Words into the speech before Bush boasts about getting re-elected: 19. Words into the speech before Bush boasts about the successful election in Iraq: 54.
  • "When action was needed, the Congress delivered -- and the nation is grateful." I hate it when politicians get up in front of the nation and announce what the nation feels. Do they think they can just bully the weak-minded into adopting the specified emotion? "My fellow Americans, these are not the droids the nation is looking for."
  • So let me get this straight: we reform Social Security by gradually phasing in a system where people can voluntarily invest a portion of their money into the stock market in preparation for retirement. But people can already voluntarily invest in the market, for retirement or otherwise. The difference, here, is that people will be paying less into S.S. (with the rest going into the market) -- and, consequentially, getting less of a payout directly from S.S. So am I wrong in thinking that this reform basically amounts to massive scaling back of Social Security, with the Administration trying to disguise this fact by claiming that any profit a person makes investing his own money in the market is, in fact, a S.S. benefit? I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but that's got to be one of the most convoluted ways to avoid admitting you're gutting a program in recent history.
  • "I have a message for every American who is 55 or older ... for you, the Social Security system will not change in any way." Wow, that sucks for Morgan Fairchild, who turned 55 today. I guess she missed out.
  • Apparently the First Lady is going to personally "take on gang life". It will be just like West-Side Story.
    Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!
    When you're a Bush
    You're a Bush all the way
    From your fake Texas twang
    To your three naps a day ...
  • "As we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases [of HIV], African American men and women." Honestly curious: I wonder what the rationale is for having him say "African American men and women" instead of just "African Americans". Just a better cadence?
  • "We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy -- and chief among them is freedom from fear." Oh, we're free from fear now? You guys spent that last three years sounding the terror alert every Thursday and insisting that Saddam Hussein was 14 minutes away from acquiring Giant Carnivorous Robots, but now that Bush is re-elected I guess we're in the clear.
  • Two paragraphs later: "The al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders ... there are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists ... there are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction ... our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many, and intimidate us all ..." Wow, that freedom from fear was awesome while it lasted!!
  • "Thank you, and may God bless America." Wait, don't you usually say "and may God continue to bless America"? Did God stop blessing us at some point in the last few months? Was it because of the Ashlee Simpson debacle?
  • This seemed the least macho and jingoistic of the SOTUs Bush has given, no doubt because it's the first in a spell that wasn't almost entirely devoted to one war (Terror) or another (Iraq). You can't really say "we're gonna hunt down opponents of social security reform, and we ... will .. kill them."
One last observation. I'm not a knee-jerk Bush-hater (I have to work at it), but whenever Bush would deliver some guaranteed applause-generating line and then smile smugly at the predictable results, I found myself profoundly irked. As Johnathan Chait points out in this New Republic essay, the thing that infuriates many people about Bush is the way he seems to honestly believe he worked his way to the top, despite all the strings that have been pulled on his behalf over the years. Or, as Jim Hightower succinctly put it, "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." And that smile, throughout the SOTU, just reinforced this impression in the minds of people like me. Here's Dubya, delivering a amply-rehearsed speech that he didn't write in front of a aggressively receptive and obsequious audience, smarming out unarguable platitudes like "taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely or not at all," and when people whoop and applaud he beams like he just ad-libbed an exceptionally clever riposte at a cocktail party. Drives, me, nuts.

But, man, don't even get me started on the Democratic response:

"I'm Harry Reid, and when I was your age you could buy horehound candy at the Searchlight general store for a ha'penny."


Posted on February 03, 2005 to Politics


Good SOTU comments, except for SS, it's worse than you think: not only is SS being phased out for this program, but if your "personal accounts" (giving you the choice of 2-3 index funds) do better than what T bills are doing, that amount will be "clawed back" to the government.

I wish I could stop reading political blogs. Gonzalez being confirmed was a foregone conclusion, but I had to wallow in my gloom with a bunch of likeminded people until it actually happened. And it's a horrible way to spend the free moments between soothing a screaming infant and going to work.

Posted by: Buck on February 3, 2005 2:22 PM

Hey, not to nitpick, but I believe the phrase you were looking for was Fair-to-Midland, not fair to middling. It's an old term used by Pioneers crossing the wilderness, if you were headed west and someone said it was fair to Midland, it meant you shouldn't be troubled by weather and shit until you get to Midland. Or, you meant exactly what you said and I'm talking out of my ass (Wouldn't be the first time) Also, I'm not sure what the big deal is about that Mark Haddon book. I read it and it gave me a headache. I'm very happy I'm not autistic cause reading how they think is mind boggling.

Posted by: Luke on February 3, 2005 2:33 PM

“Fair to middling” is correct.

Posted by: hilker on February 3, 2005 3:32 PM

Re: African American men and women. You'll have to agree that "black men and women" sounds better than "blacks". Perhaps that affected the chain leading to "African American men and women" (consciously or not).

Posted by: DanS on February 3, 2005 4:10 PM

Id take a guess and say that its more "personal" to say African american men and women because it specifically addresses human beings, as opposed to just african americans, which is sort of faceless.

Posted by: David P. on February 3, 2005 4:53 PM

At least with the Gonzalez nomination you could pretend that the Senators who voted against him actually thought that he wasn't qualified for the job. Unlike the case with Rice where the votes against were clearly based soley on the fact that they didn't like her boss. Which is a clear violation of their charge. But of course we won't hear about any sanctions against them. And while we are on the topic how come nobody ever held Dubya to the flame for signing the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Bill, when he said he thought portions of it were unconstitutional? Isn't that the definition of High Treason?

Posted by: Ryan on February 3, 2005 5:03 PM

Pretend? I have no idea what you're talking about. Rice's qualification for SoS is that she was at best ineffectual as NSA, at worst a serious cheerleader for deception in the case of Iraq. Gonzales is a bag man for Bush on torture, period. Nominees for these posts have withdrawn for far less serious problems, dude.

And now I will stop. It's bad enough I argue on political blogs.

Posted by: Buck on February 3, 2005 5:37 PM

Two paragraphs later: "The al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders ...

C'mon... You can say it, Mr. Bush... It starts with an O. Ends in -ama. C'mon. Say Osama...

Posted by: stesmo on February 3, 2005 5:45 PM

Now that's bringing the funny.

Posted by: Net Kahuna on February 3, 2005 6:33 PM

Slate notes that the "reform" of Social Security is not about the numbers, which don't add up. It is, as someone noted, about reducing the role of government as "nanny," as those opposed like to say. Article here:


It's irritating that, as with certain other measures undertaken by this administration, they don't just come out and say what their agenda is. Iraq: we want a stable source of oil (plus some familial revenge). SS: we're reducing government, only we're afraid that AARP will eat us alive if we say this out loud. Etc.

Posted by: mike on February 3, 2005 6:52 PM

You can't really say "we're gonna hunt down opponents of social security reform, and we ... will .. kill them."


I wish he would have. Just once I want to see a lame duck politician have some fun with the electorate and start acting completely insane. What could happen?

"The House today impeached the President for wearing pantaloons and excessive use of the word 'skullduggery'. The case moves to the Senate, where conviction is expected to be difficult."

Posted by: Tristen on February 3, 2005 7:02 PM

SOSU 2005: An infomercial for a product that I didn't buy.

Posted by: kate on February 3, 2005 7:29 PM

KEXP, does indeed rock the fuck out.

Posted by: eli on February 3, 2005 7:47 PM

I have to admit even though I did vote for him the smiling and winking when he delivers a good line is annoying, as is the little laugh he gets in his voice when he's talking to the press. It's sort of a "cause I'm the President, that's why, now shut the hell up" kind of laugh.

But still, Thank God it wasn't Kerry up there giving the speech. He'd be taking credit for the Iraqi vote and telling us all about how he smuggled guns to the Khmer Rouge in the 60's.

Now Dean - that would have been "interesting"....

Posted by: Duane on February 3, 2005 8:08 PM

I didn't bother to watch the SOTU, so thanks for the quick (and more than mildly-entertaining) summary.

Posted by: Brock on February 3, 2005 9:06 PM

Welcome back. I enjoy your pithy commentary.

As to the president's words, I particularly enjoy the line when he admits the Social Security plan will __increase__ costs by $1-2 TRILLION dollars as he bemoans the Soc Sec deficits that will appear in the year 2020 if we don't do something. Or is it 2038? Or 2045? Or....

Wait... It just occurred to me that this isn't a dream and it isn't a play. I can't wake up and I can't walk out? Uh-oh......

Posted by: n9891q on February 3, 2005 9:11 PM


Posted by: Erin on February 3, 2005 10:19 PM

I’ve got this great idea for when Bush wants to take SS reform to the next level.

Every American will be given the great opportunity of having a proportion of their social security payments converted directly into…CASINO CHIPS!

Posted by: Lung the Younger on February 4, 2005 12:48 AM

"Jim Hightower succinctly put it, "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

No, it is as Eddie Vedder put it...see "Bu$hleaguer" frfom the Riot Act album

Posted by: shawn on February 4, 2005 6:17 AM

Actually, Shawn, Hightower made that remark about Poppa Bush back in the late 80s. Ed just made it popular with the song. And, I'm sure you know, Ed's lyric is "born on third, thinks he hit a triple."


Posted by: heather on February 4, 2005 6:27 AM

I have read that Gov. Ann Richards made the baseball joke, about George H.W., years ago. But it seems to fit G.W. so much better, it's frequently repeated.
Maybe it's a common Texas insult and not original to any of those mentioned.

Posted by: shirky on February 4, 2005 6:36 AM

Yeah, rock stars and DemoRats plagiarizing each other while desperately mugging for the cameras... priceless

Posted by: jasntmason on February 4, 2005 7:51 AM

3rd "note":
I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but that's got to be one of the most convoluted ways to avoid admitting >your

Don't know whether you meant "you're gutting" or "your gutting of" but the whole "your" thing is one of my pet peeves and I can't help being a grammar Nazi about it

Posted by: Drew on February 4, 2005 8:08 AM

"I hate it when politicians get up in front of the nation and announce what the nation feels. Do they think they can just bully the weak-minded into adopting the specified emotion? "My fellow Americans, these are not the droids the nation is looking for.""

Yes, that is *exactly* what they think, and its amazing how well it works too. That's why I remain unconvinced on this whole democracy thing.

Posted by: Elizabeth on February 4, 2005 9:44 AM

Just want to mention that I'm thrilled by KEXP. I work at a station that bears no resemblance to KEXP, and as I pass the time at my desk I've been listening to it. It rules in every way that radio should. One former colleague replied to my forward with the words "redonkulous" and "totally in love". Thanks, you've done us a favour in pointing it out.

Posted by: Emily on February 4, 2005 10:38 AM

Thank you, Matthew, for saying what I wish I were clever enough to say about the SOTU.

Posted by: Tricia on February 4, 2005 10:59 AM

I really was waiting for some PA to come out and oil Pelosi. (I think they hid the oil can in Reid's endless tome of wrinkles.)

Posted by: Matilda on February 4, 2005 11:08 AM

omg, "demoRats". lolol i am overcome by your WIT.

Posted by: ikes on February 4, 2005 11:41 AM

"delivering a amply-rehearsed speech that he didn't write in front of a aggressively receptive and obsequious audience"

I heard that there were several Democrats in Congress and the Senate who actually decided not to attend (from a friend)...so the audience was more stacked with Republicans than usual at the SOTU. Of course, not as stacked as when all attendees are prescreened but sometimes you have to work with what you've got, even if you are the president.

Posted by: rabbit on February 4, 2005 1:38 PM

Personally I think that Ashlee Simpson should be blamed for everything. She's from Texas too, right?

Posted by: pismire on February 4, 2005 3:21 PM

Well I'll admit it, I'm still bitter about the election, and I'm still unimpressed with Dubya. My friends weren't staunch supporters of his but they still think I haven't got over this election. I wish I only knew what KEXP is.

Posted by: DavyBee on February 4, 2005 7:31 PM

Hate Bush. Hate him. Hate him. Hate him.

Posted by: Laura on February 4, 2005 8:10 PM


"Three naps a day." That's some great spoofing there.

Posted by: Mollie on February 4, 2005 9:53 PM

KEXP does rock...John in the Morning keeps me focused at my desk while I work just blocks from the WTC. Remember the WTC Mr President when you disappeared for three days while the rest of us dug the dead out from under...ooops sorry being small and bitter about what happened on your watch.

I agree KEXP is a noble replacement for politics but, one should not loose sight of the fact the mentally lame and the halt are now leading us

Posted by: Mark on February 5, 2005 4:21 AM

NPR has befcome a parody of iteself. It attempts to be multicultural while managing to be the whitest station on the air. KEXP does rock.

Re: African American men and women...I think that was put into the speech to call attention to the fact that African American women have one of the highest new infection rates. Perhaps most people would have thought of men only unless he specified.

What struck me about his speech was that he had the audacity to pretend that he is concerned about the year 2018, when the poor peoples of the gubmint will need to come up with the amazingly colossal sum of, in Dr. Evil's voice, TWO-HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS(!!) to cover the Social Security deficit. And just exactly how much did Dubya hisself ask us for THIS YEAR to fund his war? Oh, the irony.

Irony. One more thing Bush doesn't understand.

And what about the colossaly huge national debt? He apparently isn't concerned about the good people of 2018 having to worry about that. I guess the economical boost we will all enjoy after our job market is flooded with Mexicans will right the budget.

Posted by: LegallyBland on February 5, 2005 5:26 PM

Yeah. Me, too. I have retreated and stopped thinking about what THEY are doing (with the exception of the war in Iraq--can't stop thinking about that). I didn't even listen to the SOTU. So thanks for the update.

Sometimes you almost have to laugh, right? Well, no. But DY still makes me laugh. I loved the 3 naps a day also.

Posted by: Miel on February 5, 2005 11:26 PM

Cannot stop laughing. Thanks.

Posted by: Leah on February 7, 2005 7:49 PM

Maybe Bush should nap even more... let him dream his dreams of world conquest in peaceful long sleep until the end of his term. The sleepy usually don't bother with having any impact on reality.

Now that was admittedly baaaad... sorry. Thanks for a good "review" yet again.

btw: "demoRats"? Isn't it W who loves every PhotoOp? ("Mission accomplished etc.)

Posted by: treecake on February 9, 2005 6:55 AM