Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the State of the Union 2007: late and getting later

Overheard in the locker room last night before the President's speech, from some twentysomethings:

I'm not going to watch Bush tonight. It offends me to hear him. I'll just listen to Al Franken tomorrow and he'll tell me all I need to know.

Okay, moving right along--

Maybe Bush should give a State of the Union speech once a month; this seems rather surprising, a positive reaction from viewers. My guess is that this initial public response will probably fade, if it exists at all. And perhaps the people polled--who, after all, were the ones already watching Bush's speech, unlike the young woman quoted above--were predisposed towards Bush in the first place (even though they consisted of equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents).

As for the speech itself--I'm not a big fan of State of the Union speeches as a whole. They tend to be laundry lists. But this one showed that Bush still has some fight in him--and, if not Churchillian eloquence, at least some ability to state the sobering facts of our current situation, and the consequences of a pullout (consequences barely mentioned by his opponents).

Jules Crittendon is impressed by what he sees as a sort of eloquence in Bush, at least about the all-important topic of the war. He writes of Bush:

But let’s let this great American orator, finally coming into his own, with quiet confidence and determination even in lonely leadership so deep into this war, tell it himself.

And then he quotes words which, if not exactly Churchillian, could--if America would listen, really listen and take them in--inspire the absolutely vital and necessary will to see this battle through:

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

Many understand that; many do not. Many act as though they do not care. I was listening to Bush's speech for the most part rather than watching, only glancing up every now and then, so I didn't notice this myself (although Crittenden disagrees and says even the Dems applauded):

As the president asked for a chance to make his Iraq policy work, Republicans leaped to applaud. Pelosi and the Democrats remained seated.

Speaking of leaping, some previously quoted words of Bush's leapt out at me, and I repeat them for emphasis: would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned...

Unfortunately, one of the reasons we are facing the situation we're in today is that, in recent decades, too often it has been exactly "like us" to do just that. Vietnam, for example. The aftermath of the first Gulf War. And now the constant drumbeat in Congress about Iraq. Our enemies are neither blind, deaf, nor dumb. That's why Saddam played footage of those helicopters on the Saigon roof before our recent invasion of Iraq. He knew that America lacked patience, and he wanted his people to know it. And he was correct.

Can Bush's rhetoric infuse the country with the requisite will? I don't think so; the will itself has to be there in the first place, even for Churchill and the British. I wonder whether the unrelentingly gloomy prognostications in the press, the short attention span of modern life, the lack of knowledge of history, and the frivolity reflected in the overheard comments with which I began this piece don't make it impossible to sustain anything like the sort of mindset we are going to need for this battle.

And need it we will, no matter who is in charge next time, Democrats or Republicans. Because, as Bush said last night:

We know with certainty that the horrors of that September [11th] morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us--unless we stop them.

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