I was a pundit on Al Hurra last night. This is the Voice of America’s Arab outlet. I could hear myself being translated into Arabic as I talked. That was weird. Other than that, it was a normal broadcast: before the speech, questions about what to expect; afterwards, questions about the whether the Democrats will cooperate with the president and a discussion of Governor Sebelius’s response. Another reporter was commenting from Orlando, and a third was in the House chamber, buttonholing members to ask their opinions of the speech. The questions from the moderator were often quite specific. Before the speech, I was asked if the stimulus package would work. My knowledge of economics is such that the last person I hear always sounds right. I said that I thought it was designed more to bolster confidence than to bolster the economy.
Because of the specificity of the questions, we didn’t really have a chance to discuss the big picture. I thought the first portion of Bush’s speech, on domestic policy, was pretty lame, as in duck. Bush recycled the unfulfilled parts of his agenda: entitlement reform, making the tax cuts permanent, immigration reform, tort reform for medical malpractice lawsuits, reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, equal treatment of faith-based organizations, Pell grants for students in failing schools (read: vouchers), a vague directive to make health care more accessible and more affordable, balance the budget.
It seemed to me that Bush was trying less to propose real policies than he was attempting to rehabilitate himself among Republicans by embracing a fiscal conservativism that, aside from tax cuts, he had largely abandoned. It is a little late to come out swinging against earmarks after letting Tom DeLay and the Republican Congress run wild for years. For all the concern about the economy and the housing crisis, he offered little in the way of remedies: reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and help homeowners refinance their mortgages. The Democrats have no incentive to do any of this; they are banking on having control of both Congress and the White House by this time next year and having the power to change the direction and content of public policy.
The foreign policy part of his speech had an entirely different tenor. He went over the heads of the Democrats to appeal to the American people for support for his Iraq policy. He spoke with passion and total belief in what he was doing. “We will deliver justice to our enemies.” “We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st Century.” “We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated.” Bush is pretty easy to read; you can tell when he believes in what he is saying and when he is just playing politics, and his demeanor was so much more authentic in this part of his speech. I thought he made a compelling case for continued funding and support for his policies, even after his term expires. Unfortunately, he so divided the country in the manner in he attempted to justify going to war, and in the way he took liberties with the Constitution, that millions of Americans will never forgive him. It is too late.