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W’s SOTU #8: Pretty good theater

That was the SOTU last night. President Bush appeared relaxed and seemed to enjoy himself, something we haven’t always seen in him during previous addresses to the nation. But what of the substance?

Paraphrasing Homer Simpson, “Buh. Sneh.”

The themes were typically patriotic, praising American workers, teachers, law enforcement officers, and military men and women, and calling for renewed efforts to spread democracy and freedom around the world. All well and good.

But look closer. The images the president summoned of the victories of freedom in Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq were paid for by you and me in ways far beyond what we imagine. Would it surprise you to learn that tens of millions of American tax dollars have been funneled to political parties in those nations to influence the outcomes of those elections? And the free and fair elections the president ballyhooed apparently only register as legitimate in Washington, D.C. when the victor isn’t the pro-Russian candidate — as in Belarus, where the “dictator” survived another color revolution, or Ukraine, where the ballots were counted until “our” guy won — or a member of Hamas.

And the president’s stern admonition to Congress about earmarks made Sharon and me laugh out loud. Come on, George — what are earmarks but the congressional equivalent of the presidential signing statement? (And what’s $18 billion in “wasteful or bloated programs” when the real deficit is on the high side of $4 trillion?)

What does it matter, anyway? It’s not like the president actually needs Congress to do anything these days. Thanks to the signing statement, which President Bush has used hundreds of times to effectively re-write legislation passed by Congress to his own liking, and some creative interpretations by the Justice Department that exempt the president from U.S. statutes (like FISA) and the Geneva Convention, the man (or woman) in the Oval Office is, in effect, a sovereign.

This isn’t a new thing. Presidents have been ruling through Executive Branch regulations since FDR. Congress just authorizes the budgets.

The latest examples: This administration’s Security and Prosperity Partnership with Canada and Mexico and the proposed long-term security agreement with Iraq. Anyone who remembers junior high civics class should know that the president cannot enter into treaties with foreign governments without the approval of the Senate. Yet, while Democrats attack the Iraq proposal, there hasn’t been a single call from leading Dems to bring it before Congress.

Why? Simple. The Democrats don’t want a weaker presidency, one that functions according to the powers described in the Constitution, because they want their turn at the levers of power. In short, in the minds of Democratic power brokers, we’ll still have a dictator in the White House, but he or she will be a good one.

All in all, it was a speech that was delivered well and sounded the themes that matter to the GOP, at least the party leaders at the national level. It was entertaining, though not in the way the president imagined.

But for next year, as this speech is delivered by the new occupant in the White House, I suggest we acknowledge reality and rename it the State of the Empire address.

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