State of the State of the Union
I thought the State of the Union speech last night was pretty well done, especially the first--the non-domestic--half. Bush is no Churchill (who is?), but he can speak clearly and forcefully, and he seemed relaxed and confident.
My favorite line: There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat.
The first half of the sentence seemed to speak to Bush's opponents on the left, the "peace at almost any price, hang the consequences" folks. The second seemed addressed to his isolationist opponents on the right who think it's not our business to intervene in far-off places; they are the ones who might be moved by the appeal to "honor." He mentioned isolationists explicitly several times in the speech, America rejects the false comfort of isolationism. And he also very explicitly mentioned "radical Islam" as the opponent.
I saw another theme, that of the need for rising above politics, for bipartisan cooperation. Good luck on that one, Mr. Bush.
My favorite line addressed to my former party, the Democrats: Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy. But it can certainly feel like one, can't it? Especially when you can't quite come up with another.
But, as often is the case, I saw one speech. The MSM, for the most part, saw another.
In his article on the speech, David Sanger of the Times describes an anxious, weakened Bush on Iraq (note the beginning of the sentence, emphasizing the length of the war):
Three years into the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush tried anew to strike a tone of optimism, saying that "we are in this fight, and we are winning." But he also bowed to the country's anxiety about finding a path out of a mission that seems to become harder each day, and he warned anew of the dangers of premature retreat.
Hmmm. Bush tries anew to strike that tone of optimism, despite a "mission that seems to become harder every day." No evidence is offered of this ever-increasing difficulty; the reader is just supposed to understand it as a tautology. And perhaps to many Times readers, it is--after all, it has been repeated often enough.
Sanger's piece reads like a column, but it's on the front page right under the lead article on the speech. And speaking of the lead article, there's quite a bit of editorializing going on there, too. (This, of course, should come as no surprise.) A few examples:
...Mr. Bush was more tempered and less partisan than a year ago, evidence of his diminished political standing...In foreign policy, Mr. Bush broke no new ground, and used language drawn from previous speeches...The president built on the theme of his second inaugural address, and even in the face of the Hamas victory issued a strong call for democracy and elections in the Middle East...
I especially noticed that first sentence, the idea that, if Bush were more tempered and less partisan in this speech, it must be prima facie evidence of weakness and not of--well, of temperance and non-partisanship. Of course, that could be correct. But notice that authors Bumiller and Nagourney state their speculations about Bush's motives for the call for nonpartisanship as a foregone conclusion, not a hypothesis.
The coverage is not only critical of Bush (no surprise there), but profoundly cynical about his motives. Now, cynicism about the motives of politicians on either side is certainly not ill-founded. My guess (and this is not really a tentative hypothesis; I'm just stating it that way to be careful) is that such cynicism in the Times is displayed mainly in one direction, towards the Republicans.
But the greater question, for me, is this: is this sort of editorializing, which one can find in virtually every paragraph of the piece, appropriate for a straight news article? My answer is no; it rightly belongs on the editorial page.
Perhaps my brain is getting addled with age and those pernicious neocon vibes, but it seems to me that, in my youth, most newspapers aspiring to journalistic distinction used to respect that difference.