Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's Wasted Breath

I tried to watch the State of the Union Address from a Washington hotel bar last night, but could barely hear it through the noise of drinkers who were completely ignoring the tube. And the fact that even in Political JunkieLand, people were ignoring the speech, probably tells you everything you need to note about the impact of this SOTU.

This is at least the second SOTU in a row where the White House kept signalling in advance that Bush was going to unleash some big, meaty domestic proposals. Instead, we got a sentence on climate change, a vague endorsement of better fuel efficiency standards, and a content-free call for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. The one interesting idea in the speech--for limiting the tax subsidy for Cadillac employer-sponsored health plans and using the savings to subsidize health insurance for everyone else--was offset by dollops of the usual conservative pablum about Health Savings Accounts and medical malpractice lawsuit limits.

I admit my attention was wandering during the Iraq sections of the speech, but I heard enough to wonder why the White House thought that repeating the same arguments Bush made during his recent prime-time speech on the subject was going to work any better than it did the first time around.

Most of all, the speech reminded me of that moment back in 1995 when Republicans were calling Bill Clinton "irrelevant." It didn't turn out that way for Clinton, but it's increasingly true of Bush.

If Bush was largely wasting his breath, Jim Webb's Democratic Response to SOTU was truly a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual pallid laundry list of Mark Mellman's poll-tested bromides about work that works for working families, Webb focused on the two overriding points of difference between Democrats and Bush--the economy and the war in Iraq--and kept his arguments clear and simple. I was particularly impressed by his repeated efforts to turn around the central rationale for Bush's war policies, arguing that the war in Iraq has been a damaging distraction from the broader war with jihadists, not its central theater.
-- Posted at 1:17 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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