Hopping around the internet I’m finding surprisingly positive reactions to the speech, but also a sense that it doesn’t matter much. I wouldn’t call Bush a lame duck yet, but he is close. Following Reagan and Clinton, Bush will be the third two-term president who was weak in his last two years. Big change is difficult to effect in American government at any time, but especially so in a President’s second term.
Looking at the transcript, I see that President Bush takes on earmarks and entitlements. This is nice, but talk is cheap. Let’s see Congress actually vote away their pork and reform entitlements.
On health care, he says,
When it comes to healthcare, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children and we will meet those responsibilities.
Now, how can Republicans be horrified by the Democrats’ socialized medicine schemes but ignore this? If the government takes care of the elderly, the disabled and poor children, then the principle of free market health care is gone and the road is paved for socialized medicine. Once you expand the state to cover the weakest, then the next to weakest look like they deserve it too and sooner or later America’s health care looks like Canada’s. The Republicans will get us to Hillarycare, just not as fast as Hillary would have done it.
I don’t know if Bush’s tax deduction plan will pay for the expanded coverage or enlarge the deficit. Are the details of Bush’s plan a step forward, backward or sideways? I will look to such experts as Richard Ralston in the next few days for answers.
On immigration, I have never understood why the right gets so excited about this issue. I suspect that people’s fears that our culture and our country are out of control and careening toward disaster are being scapegoated onto illegal immigrants. (Is there a better way to write what I mean than “being scapegoated onto”?) I have no particular problem with amnesty. Most illegal immigrants are still coming here to work, which helps the economy – at least, I hope that’s why they’re coming. The welfare state makes the issue of immigration, like it makes most issues, more complicated and worse.
The alternative fuels section of the speech just looks to me like another foolish government program. Get the government out of energy and then supply and demand, market competition and the pricing system will take care of things much better than all the geniuses in Washington, D.C. ever could. Of course, this principle could be applied to every aspect of the economy.
Bush says some interesting things on the war. He restates the neoconservative vision that democracy leads to security. As the history of Athens shows, democracy does not guarantee liberty, so I’m dubious, to say the least.
And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.
This is where the President is tragically wrong. Succeeding in Iraq is not winning the war. Eradicating all states that sponsor terrorism would be cheaper and easier than bringing democracy to Iraq, and is the only guarantee of our safety.
We went into this largely united — in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq — and I ask you to give it a chance to work.
What constitutes failure in Iraq? How long must we be there to succeed? Must we become something of a neocolonial power guaranteeing Iraq’s security for the long term? Look at how Bush begins the very next paragraph:
The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others.
Here again, Bush is tragically wrong. How is it that we eradicated fascism in four years, but must struggle for a generation against Islamofascism? Only because George W. Bush and the rest of the establishment lack the will to fight a real war.
The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. With the other members of the Quartet — the UN, the European Union, and Russia — we are pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.
So the Quartet is America and… the UN, the EU and Russia? Will we have to get those three to approve of anything we want to do in the Middle East? This is a recipe for appeasement and failure. This is a recipe for eventual war, not peace. (Russia just sold anti-aircraft weapons to Iran. Do you think they will agree to any attack on that country?)
To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, and poverty, and disease — and that is precisely what America is doing.
And after this statement of altruism follows a list of programs in which the money of hardworking American taxpayers will be thrown at third world hellholes. Those countries need freedom – individual rights and capitalism – not handouts. But really fixing the problem is not the point. Bush believes that sacrifice is the moral ideal:
When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, and courage, and self sacrifice of the American people.
Kindness, courage and self-sacrifice – not exactly life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Bush and Jefferson have two radically different visions of America.
For the rest of the speech Bush gives examples of his altruistic vision of the moral ideal, hoping to end in loftiness and inspiration. Such demonstrations of loyalty to values can be inspiring, but only in a context of life on Earth and rational self-interest, Jefferson’s context. To Bush sacrifice is an end in itself. And this is why Bush is tragically wrong in our current war. When America wiped out Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we acted with neither kindness nor self-sacrifice.