Daily Archives: January 22, 2004

SOTU Analysis, Part 2

In these last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental strengths of the American economy. We have come through recession, and terrorist attack, and corporate scandals, and the uncertainties of war. And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax relief, this economy is strong, and growing stronger.

You have doubled the child tax credit from $500 to a thousand dollars, reduced the marriage penalty, begun to phase out the death tax, reduced taxes on capital gains and stock dividends, cut taxes on small businesses, and you have lowered taxes for every American who pays income taxes.

The return of the pronoun “you” attached to a laundry-list of Republican initiatives which he credits with improving the economy. Economists would likely differ.

Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years. New home construction: the highest in almost 20 years. Home ownership rates: the highest ever. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high. And jobs are on the rise.

These numbers confirm that the American people are using their money far better than government would have — and you were right to return it.

The first graf, a sequence of figures and unconfirmed assertions that are at least debatable and at most false (“jobs are on the rise”–they aren’t; we’re just not losing quite as many every month), is set up as proof of the assertion in the second graf. The unstated assumptions here are that: a) the economy can be measured by these simple criteria; and b) that the govt’s economic responsibility goes no further. If these two assumptions were not being made, he would have been forced to mention: a) the enormous deficit and staggering trade imbalance, and b) the number of social, health, job training, and poverty programs that have been cut to the bone or eliminated altogether by the very same tax cuts. By leaving out such considerations, he virtually defines govt’s role as the very narrow one of “business booster”. By defining the economy in terms of home-buying and manufacturing, he likewise defines the population which is the target of govt help–the middle and upper classes. He does not see those who can’t afford to buy homes–or even pay ever higher rents–as part of his constituency. If he did, he would presumably have said something about them and their difficulties in what has come to be known as a “jobless recovery”.

America’s growing economy is also a changing economy. As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive, and workers need new skills. Much of our job growth will be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology. So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.

Sounds sensible. This would be the place to announce a jobs-training program, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says:

All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet for too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered. By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation of literacy the law of our country. We are providing more funding for our schools — a 36 percent increase since 2001. We are requiring higher standards. We are regularly testing every child on the fundamentals. We are reporting results to parents, and making sure they have better options when schools are not performing. We are making progress toward excellence for every child.

Paired with the graf above, he seems to be saying that the way he intends to prepare workers for the new labor market is to start them learning skills when they’re in elementary school. Of course he doesn’t mean that, so, since he isn’t proposing a job-training program, the previous graf is meaningless–just a structural bridge between the economy and the NCLBA.

He considers the NCLBA, the only social service or education program he has proposed which was actually passed, a signature achievement so here he includes himself by using “we”, acknowledging that his Admin as well as the Congress was fundamental to its enactment. Like all Presidents in recent memory and now in credit-taking mode, he goes on to confuse the budget increases in education–which Congressional Republicans fought and he tried to discourage–with the money promised by the NCLBA, money which was in fact cut from the budget fairly early on at the insistence of Republican legislators.

Despite the pleas of educators that the Act is underfunded at best and unfunded at worst, he proposes no new funding; despite criticisms that the Act turns schools into centers for test-training and penalizes poor school districts disproportionately, he offers no modifications of its provisions to address those concerns but yet another series of assertions that all is well in the best of all possible worlds, assertions that run counter to news reports, professional evaluations, and anecdotal evidence from teachers of the program’s short-comings. Once again, we are expected to believe something because he says it’s true.

But the status quo always has defenders. Some want to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability. Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense: We expect third-graders to read and do math at third grade level — and that is not asking too much. Testing is the only way to identify and help students who are falling behind.

This nation will not go back to the days of simply shuffling children along from grade to grade without them learning the basics. I refuse to give up on any child — and the No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of opportunity to all of America’s children.

At last acknowledging the fact of criticism without dealing with its substance, he attacks critics of the NCLBA with the word “undermining” and accuses them of trying to “weaken” its provisions. These are very active words that carry connotations of laziness and deliberate subversion. Here he is only one short step from the standard ultraconservative denigration of teachers and the teaching profession, but he takes that step in the second graf, indicting the whole educational system for “shuffling children along from grade to grade”, a long-time ultraconservative accusation. Then, for only the third time thus far, he uses the personal pronoun “I”–“I refuse to give up on any child”–in a way that suggests he considers himself a lone embattled figure standing up for the rights of children in the face of universal opposition.

Again, it’s an odd choice. Most presidents would have automatically chosen the more inclusive word “we” in order to promote the idea that they were representing the needs and desires of most Americans; after all, what greater need does society have than the need for a well-educated workforce and citizenry? And isn’t it obvious that we are all responsible for the education of the nation’s kids? Why didn’t he say “we”?

At the same time, we must ensure that older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now. Many of the fastest-growing occupations require strong math and science preparation, and training beyond the high school level. So tonight I propose a series of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program will provide extra help to middle and high school students who fall behind in reading and math, expand advanced placement programs in low-income schools, and invite math and science professionals from the private sector to teach part-time in our high schools. I propose larger Pell grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school. I propose increasing our support for America’s fine community colleges, so they can train workers for the industries that are creating the most new jobs. By all these actions, we will help more and more Americans to join in the growing prosperity of our country.

Job training is important, and so is job creation. We must continue to pursue an aggressive, pro-growth economic agenda.

More than half-way through his speech he finally makes several proposals for changes in a few govt programs dealing with education, including the job-training program at which he hinted several grafs ago. The question arises, “Why did he break off his argument in favor of the training program in order to praise his NCLBA, only to pick it up and finish it later?” Structurally this is very strange, even clumsy. One must assume it was done for a reason, but what reason could there be?

The answer is fairly obvious if we remember that the core radical-conservative world-view sees everything–including education–as an adjunct to business needs. In Bush’s mind there is simply no difference, no separation, between education and job-training; they are part and parcel of the same thing: providing the kind of workers corporations want. For rad-cons, schools–from elementary up–should function as de facto worker-training facilities, and any school program or activity that is irrelevant to that goal is a waste of time and money and should be eliminated.

Here, through this odd structure, Bush has revealed his true belief about the nature of education in America: it exists to train the workers of the future. Note that his proposals, such as they are, center around improving math, science, and reading skills–all crucial to modern business–rather than arts and music skills, civics awareness, or a knowledge of history. Those are NOT relevant to business needs, so–despite a demonstrated weakness in students’ knowledge of their own history, for example, a weakness so profound that almost a fifth of graduating high school seniors don’t know which World War came first even though they’re numbered and fully a third believe Napoleon was an American who fought in either the Revolution or the Civil War–he doesn’t propose bringing expert historians into the classroom to improve our knowledge of history.

For anyone who believes that an education should be aimed at producing well-rounded individuals and knowledgable citizens and not just capable employees, this accidental peek into Junior’s brain is–and ought to be–disturbing.

Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go back up. Unless you act, millions of families will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. Unless you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes. Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life. Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What the Congress has given, the Congress should not take away: For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent.

Here, at last, is the other side of the pronoun “you”. Having earlier given the Congress the carrot of total credit for passing his initiatives, he now breaks out the stick of total responsibility for passing the rest of what he wants–and total blame if they don’t. Repetitious use of the phrase “unless you act” drives this home like a hammer. This is fairly threatening language promising retribution and consequences if they fail in their duty to him and–since he has already made sure they understand that he is “the people”–the country. The use of the imperative “will” (“families will be charged”, “businesses will be paying higher taxrs”) leaves no room for debate. This is “do it or else” language.

Again there is no reference to the balooning deficits his tax cuts created; ignoring them is what allows him to promote what the WSJ called “iiresponsible fiscal policie[s]” and propose actions that will make the deficit even worse than it is now.

Our agenda for jobs and growth must help small business owners and employees with relief from needless federal regulation, and protect them from junk and frivolous lawsuits. Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run — so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy. My administration is promoting free and fair trade, to open up new markets for America’s entrepreneurs, and manufacturers, and farmers, and to create jobs for America’s workers. Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account. We should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people.

In many ways a remarkable graf. It begins with a rad-con list of pro-business grievances, moves to a liberal energy agenda, misrepresents the Admin’s attitude toward trade (based on its actions rather than its rhetoric), and finishes by promoting the replacement of the Social Security system with “personal retirement accounts”. None of these items is in any way connected to the others; it’s as if the graf were a dumping ground for politically attractive slogans for which there would otherwise have been no home in the speech. Given the actions of the Bush Admin over the past three years, it’s impossible to believe that any of it but the opening and the close is sincere.

The close, however, does contain the “ownership” meme that conservative pundits have been pushing as an excuse for destroying Social Security. That it made it into the SOTU may be significant–or it may just be a sop to the base. The Bush Admin has been pursuing a different path to the eventual elimination of SS–robbing it blind. Every year of Bush’s presidency, tens of $billions$ of dollars have been taken from the SS Trust Fund and used to pay the govt’s operating expenses. With the Iraq war continuing, more tax cuts, and Bush’s proposed spending increases, never mind the pork the Congress tacks on, if Junior wins a second term the SS Fund could be bankrupt in a few years, the whole thing moved into the general fund to cover part of the deficit. They’re doing this unilaterally, so it doesn’t really matter whether people are convinced by the “ownership” slogan or not.

And we should limit the burden of government on this economy by acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars. In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than four percent. This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending and be wise with the people’s money. By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

As Kevin Drum at Calpundit shows, this graf is pure financial bushwah. Even Junior knows that everything he wants will not reduce the deficit but expand it exponentially. Read Kevin’s analysis–it’s an eye-opener. This promise to keep spending growth limited to 4% while at the same time cutting the deficit can only be labeled what it is: the 4th demonstrable lie in the SOTU.

This graf is little more than a stalking-horse. The phrase “cut wasteful spending” is conservative code for the continued extraction of any money intended for social programs, poverty programs, nutrition programs, etc, from the budget until there’s nothing left. Nothing new about this–same old Republican policy, same old excuse for it: money meant for people is a “waste”; money to prop up business is “sound fiscal policy”.

Tonight I also ask you to reform our immigration laws, so they reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing employers, when no Americans can be found to fill the job. This reform will be good for our economy — because employers will find needed workers in an honest and orderly system. A temporary worker program will help protect our homeland — allowing border patrol and law enforcement to focus on true threats to our national security. I oppose amnesty, because it would encourage further illegal immigration and unfairly reward those who break our laws. My temporary worker program will preserve the citizenship path for those who respect the law, while bringing millions of hardworking men and women out from the shadows of American life.

A political con for the purpose of attracting Hispanic votes, the “guest worker” proposal has little or no chance for passage and will probably be forgotten as soon as the election is over by everyone except the Hispanics who believed he meant it.

Our nation’s health care system, like our economy, is also in a time of change. Amazing medical technologies are improving and saving lives. This dramatic progress has brought its own challenge, in the rising costs of medical care and health insurance. Members of Congress, we must work together to help control those costs and extend the benefits of modern medicine throughout our country.

Meeting these goals requires bipartisan effort — and two months ago, you showed the way. By strengthening Medicare and adding a prescription drug benefit, you kept a basic commitment to our seniors: You are giving them the modern medicine they deserve.

Starting this year, under the law you passed, seniors can choose to receive a drug discount card, saving them 10 to 25 percent off the retail price of most prescription drugs — and millions of low-income seniors can get an additional $600 to buy medicine. Beginning next year, seniors will have new coverage for preventive screenings against diabetes and heart disease, and seniors just entering Medicare can receive wellness exams.

In January of 2006, seniors can get prescription drug coverage under Medicare. For a monthly premium of about $35, most seniors who do not have that coverage today can expect to see their drug bills cut roughly in half. Under this reform, senior citizens will be able to keep their Medicare just as it is, or they can choose a Medicare plan that fits them best — just as you, as members of Congress, can choose an insurance plan that meets your needs. And starting this year, millions of Americans will be able to save money tax-free for their medical expenses, in a health savings account.

Taken together, this sequence of grafs simply outlines the Republican view of the benefits of the new Medicare drug coverage. The only important sentence is the last one:

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto.

In an echo of the personal responsibility he assumed for the nation’s children, here, through the “I”, he does the same with seniors, presenting himself as their only champion in the battle with a Congress that wants to take away their new drug benefit. Not that anyone in Congress has suggested taking it away…. At least when Don Quixote tilted at windmills, he believed they were giants; Junior knows they’re windmills and his tilting is strictly for show.

On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs. To make insurance more affordable, Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs. Small businesses should be able to band together and negotiate for lower insurance rates, so they can cover more workers with health insurance — I urge you to pass association health plans. I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance. By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. And tonight I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their taxes.

A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America’s health care the best in the world.

These are the most mind-boggling grafs in the speech. In them, camouflaged by language that asserts the opposite, Bush does nothing less than propose to replace public health insurance with individual “health savings accounts”. IOW, he has just expanded the on-going Republican plan to shift govt-funded programs onto the backs of individuals by including health care. He has taken one step nearer the conservative goal of getting the govt out of the business of protecting the weak, the poor, and the community as a whole, and toward making the individual bear the brunt of economic changes and the vagaries of the business cycle. It is a signal that if he is re-elected, Medicaid and Medicare may go the way of the dodo, replaced by a social Darwinism that lets the strong feed on the weak. Very very disturbing grafs.

We are living in a time of great change — in our world, in our economy, and in science and medicine. Yet some things endure — courage and compassion, reverence and integrity, respect for differences of faith and race. The values we try to live by never change. And they are instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such as families, and schools, and religious congregations. These institutions — the unseen pillars of civilization — must remain strong in America, and we will defend them.

We must stand with our families to help them raise healthy, responsible children. And when it comes to helping children make right choices, there is work for all of us to do.

These two grafs set up the next major portion of the speech which deals with a dearly beloved conservative doctrine–family values. To wit:

One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble their lives and futures on drugs. Our government is helping parents confront this problem, with aggressive education, treatment and law enforcement. Drug use in high school has declined by 11 percent over the past two years. Four hundred thousand fewer young people are using illegal drugs than in the year 2001. In my budget, I have proposed new funding to continue our aggressive, community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight I propose an additional $23 million for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children’s lives. The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and we don’t want to lose you.

–He proposes money for drug testing in school, a very controversial issue but one that plays well with his base.

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message — that there are short cuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now.

–He wants athletes to stop taking steroids because they’re “not setting much of an example.” Both these first two grafs are intended to portray him (note the use of “I”) as a stalwart drug fighter without requiring either him or his Admin to do much about the drug problem. They’re all rhetoric designed to establish his bona-fides for the next couple of grafs where the real meat is.

To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the dangers young people face — even when they are difficult to talk about. Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a grass-roots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Decisions children make now can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. All of us — parents, schools, government — must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children

One of the more hypocritical grafs. “[W]e must be willing to confront the dangers young people face — even when they are difficult to talk about” is followed by a transparent refusal to confront anything and a flat lie: “Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases”. This isn’t true and he knows it, but he would rather let the kids he is so superficially concerned abouit die rather than utter the word “condom” and alienate his abstinence-only base. His hypocrisy doubles as a Trojan horse,. though, because astinence-only programs are offered solely by fundamentalist religious groups–public and private health services are much more realistic and concerned far more with the health and safety of their patients than with clinging to fundamentalist religious doctrine.

Having snuck religious groups money through the back door, he finishes by taking the standard conservative shot at “the culture”–right-wing code for Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry. Not that they don’t deserve to take shots, but Bush is simply aiming a gratuitous swipe at the nearest scapegoat.

And now we come to what he was leading up to the whole time:

A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as the union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states. Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

The outcome of this debate is important — and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process..

A couple of interesting things in these two grafs. First, there is a mixed message here: on the one hand, he approves of the law which doesn’t allow any state to ‘define marriage” for any other state; on the other, “[a]ctivist judges…have begun redefining marriage by court order.” Since this is an obvious reference to the recent decision of the Mass State Supreme Court that the State Constitution allows gay marriage–a clear example of a state defining marriage for itself–he should have no problem with this. But he does. In this instance, the Federal govt, he says, has the right to do what that same Federal govt has forbidden states to do: overrule a state’s own definition of marriage. As dicey as this is, it needs some kind of rationalization. He offers it by asserting that the courts have acted “without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives.”

What’s interesting here is his assumption, ignoring the Consitutional mandate that separates the Judicial Branch from the other two in order to ensure its independence from them, that the role of the court is to obey the will of the Legislature. In yet another accidental peek into the president’s true beliefs, we find a fairly disturbing lack of knowledge–or interest–in the time-honored traditions of American democracy. Having sworn at his inauguration to uphold the Constitution, he is here defying it, revealing his contempt for its quaint notion of an independent judiciary and casting scorn on “activist judges” who disregard the will of politicians.

The second is this sentence: “If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process.” Not only has he abandoned his supposed respect for the states’ right to decide the issue for themselves, he threatens them with a Constitutional Amendment if they make a decision he doesn’t like.

Taken together, this is the most imperial and anti-democratic section of the speech. He openly rejects the Constitutional separation of powers and then, like an emperor or dictator, threatens the satraps if they don’t comply with his wishes. All that’s missing from this graf is the threat of sending troops to enforce his command.

I realize I’m overstating the case somewhat, but his cavalier attitude toward the Constitution–“I’ll obey what I approve of and ignore what I don’t”–is both a serious breach of his oath of office and a dangerous signal that he won’t let a little thing like the law stop him from doing what he wants to do. The arrogance and self-satisfaction in this stance is frightening and exceeded only by the hypcrisy of closing the section with a paean to the sanctity of the individual when he has just denied that sanctity to a whole class of people, so “each individual has dignity and value in God’s sight”–except if they’re gay, at which point they’re not to be allowed either dignity or value. A sad, angering, scary couple of grafs.

It is also important to strengthen our communities by unleashing the compassion of America’s religious institutions. Religious charities of every creed are doing some of the most vital work in our country — mentoring children, feeding the hungry, taking the hand of the lonely. Yet government has often denied social service grants and contracts to these groups, just because they have a cross or Star of David or crescent on the wall. By executive order, I have opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes faith-based charities. Tonight I ask you to codify this into law, so people of faith can know that the law will never discriminate against them again.

In this graf the Trojan horse opens wide and we see the troops hidden inside. Rather brazenly he asks the Congress to join him in defying the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state by passing a law that will allow Federal money to be funneled to religious organizations. As usual in this speech, he acknowledges neither the limits of his request nor the legal ramifications, merely asserting that not to do what he asks is “discrimination” and adding that he’s doing it anyway, “by executive order”, much as a Roman Emperor might have asked the Senate for permission to do something while making it clear he intended to order it done whether they agreed or not.

In the past, we have worked together to bring mentors to the children of prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. America is the land of the second chance — and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.

Interesting. So important is it to him to find a way to get money to his fundamentalist Christian supporters that he’s willing to defy the three-strikes-you’re-out, prison-is-about-punishment-not-rehabilitation mindset of his rad-con base. There are implications here, but they’re so slight at this point that I don’t want to get into them yet. Put this in the back of your mind for now, but don’t forget about it. I think this may mean something. I think it may be important.

SOTU Analysis–Part 1

I have to preface this post by admitting that I neither saw nor heard Junior’s address–I was working and simply forgot to turn the radio on in time–so my remarks are predicated entirely on the text alone, absent all facial or vocal cues. In a way I’m at a disadvantage, but in another way relying solely on the text can eliminate the misdirection of carefully-crafted emphasis–or lack of it. In addition, my background as both a political junkie and an actor/director/writer may give me some insight into the actual meanings of the lines, since finding that meaning in a bare script is more or less what I do every day.

So here, fwiw, is my take on this year’s SOTU. If it seems unnecessarily long and detailed, discussing the pros and cons of individual phrases and even single words, please bare in mind that that is how these speeches are written and approved: every single word is gone over with a fine tooth comb for the correctness of the impression it leaves, the meaning it promotes, and the subliminal impression it makes. Just like with advertising copy, the words and phrases used in Presidential speeches are honed and tinkered with and fought over endlessly. Therefore the only way to understand them is to take them apart in exactly the way they were put together: why did they choose this word instead of that one? why did they choose to open with this phrase? why did they bundle these seemingly disparate batches of grafs as if they were the same topic? and so on. (Text of speech will be in italics.)

Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens:

America this evening is a nation called to great responsibilities. And we are rising to meet them.

Opening lines are always significant and writers spend a great deal of time diddling with them until they’re just right. They set the tone of what will follow but even more important they frame the whole speech by summarizing its overall goal. The opening line of Junior’s SOTU does two things:

1) The use of the word “responsibilities” is intended to cast all of the Admin’s moves as inevitable decisions forced on them by circumstances beyond their control, suggesting that if they had made any other decisions or responded in a different way, they would have been irresponsible, which in turn suggests rather strongly right off the bat that any critics who disagree with their decisions must be irresponsible as well. This word tells us that what will follow won’t be explanations or justifications but assumptions based on the belief that nothing else could possibly have been done.

2) The word “rising” in the second sentence is simple verbal code for “upbeat, uplifting, positive”, as in “leaving the darkness and rising into the light”. This word tells us that what follows will be a catalogue of positives and that any doubts or alternative options to the decisions taken will be given short shrift if they’re mentioned at all.

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed, and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure.

The interesting phrasing, “deployed across the world”, is a bit of a departure for a “war-time president” because it doesn’t acknowledge his responsibility for that deployment. Lyndon Johnson during the Viet Nam War, Reagan before Grenada, Bush I before the First Gulf War, and Clinton before Kosovo all used either the word “I” or the word “we” in acknowledgement of their responsibility for the decision they had made. Instead, Bush II phrases it as if the troops had decided on their own to deploy themselves and he’s just backing up that decision. It’s a curious choice of words for a president because it suggests his disconnection to events, a disconnection so profound that it’s almost like he’s on the outside, a mere onlooker rather than a main player and major decision-maker, and presidents don’t usually like to be thought of that way.

The phrase “delivering justice to the violent” is equally curious, combining as it does a high-concept word like “justice” with a low-concept word like “violent”. Normally speech-writers prefer not to mix the two since that’s apt to create confusion and even wound the intended tone of the speech. They would be more likely to use some version of the phrase “delivering justice to the unjust” which maintained the high moral tone of the key word. We must therefore assume that the choice of the word “violent” was deliberate and probably not that of the speech-writer.

In addition, the phrase “delivering justice” is usually followed not by a reference to the perpetrator of the injustice but to the victims of it; one “delivers justice” to those who have been deprived of it. Bush’s focus on the perps instead of their victims gives the phrase more the ring of “justice defined as revenge” than “justice defined as righting wrongs.” As such, it’s a disturbing sentence yet it explains to some degree his choice of the word “violent”: injustices do not automatically either involve or excuse retribution; violence demands them.

Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are tracking terrorist threats; analysts are examining airline passenger lists; the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are patrolling our coasts and borders. And their vigilance is protecting America.

Americans are proving once again to be the hardest working people in the world. The American economy is growing stronger. The tax relief you passed is working.

As promised by the opening line, these grafs contain no hint that anything whatever is wrong–no problems that need to be fixed, no adjustments that need to be made. Neither the criticisms leveled against the HSD nor the enormous deficits caused by the tax cuts (called “relief” here for obvious reasons) are alluded to even in passing. Most presidents would refer in the SOTU to criticisms of their decisions even if just to debunk them.

Tonight, members of Congress can take pride in great works of compassion and reform that skeptics had thought impossible. You are raising the standards of our public schools and you are giving our senior citizens prescription drug coverage under Medicare.

The use of the phrase “great works of compassion” defines the programs that will come after it in those terms without further explanation. “[R]aising the standards of our public schools” may be a worthy goal but why is it “compassionate”?

In this graf Bush begins to use a personal pronoun–you. Doing so is an attempt to give his audience credit for the work they’ve done, which is fine. But it also again distances him from that work, suggesting that–as before–they weren’t passing initiatives which he developed and sent to them but acting entirely on their own. That may make them feel good but its effect is likewise to remove him from any responsibility for them.

What’s interesting about this verbal distancing is the almost complete lack of political reasons for doing so. If he was certain the actions of the Congress were or would become anathema to the voters, then giving all the credit to the legislature would make some sense. But these are clearly programs in which he believes and for which he fought, either for their own sake or for the sake of their political value. What does he think is to be gained by ducking responsibility for them if he believes–as he clearly does–that they are perceived by the electorate as positive programs? Why not use the word “we” rather than “you”, which would have the same effect of giving the Congress due credit bit also acknowledge his own role? For a political animal, the choice is baffling. Does he really think he had nothing to do with these initiatives? Does he think the public believes he had nothing to do with them? Odd.

We have faced serious challenges together — and now we face a choice. We can go forward with confidence and resolve — or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us. We can press on with economic growth, and reforms in education and Medicare — or we can turn back to the old policies and old divisions.

We have not come all this way — through tragedy, and trial, and war — only to falter and leave our work unfinished. Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same of us. In their efforts, their enterprise and their character, the American people are showing that the state of our Union is confident and strong.

Finally, Bush elects to use a personal pronoun which includes himself: “we”. He does so in the context not of the actions or decisions of either his Administration or his work with the Congress but in the context of the people–Americans–as a whole, thus identifying himself with and as “the people”.

And now we begin to understand why this is the first time Bush has included himself in his own speech. While identifying yourself with “the people” is a fairly common rhetorical practice for any politician, what’s highly unusual here is Bush’s deliberate refusal to refer to himself in any other role. He not only avoids acknowledging his political role–a standard ploy for presidents wishing to give the impression that they’re “above partisan politics” because they’re far too busy running the country–he also avoids acknowledging his executive role, that of running the country, precisely the opposite of what one expects from a president in a major address. He takes no credit–and no responsibility–for anything that has happened; he is speaking not just for but as “the people”, projecting himself as the “common man” in the role of a dispassionate observer reporting objectively what he sees around him: the military decided to deploy themselves “across the world in the war on terror”, and by doing so they are “bringing hope to the oppressed”; the Congress has passed many “compassionate” initiatives in which they can “take pride”. As the personification of America, he looks on and approves.

Rhetorically, one has to ask oneself what he wants to achieve with this sort of approach. After all, politically speaking it’s counter-intuitive, possibly counter-productive–it separates him from the successes politicians need to be able to point to and take credit for. So why is he doing it?

Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since Sept. 11, 2001 — over two years without an attack on American soil — and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting — and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombassa, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.

Apart from the conflation of “America and the civilized world” which suggests that any country not aligned with us must therefore be “un”-civilized, this is a fairly standard political plea not to change horses in midstream.

Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the PATRIOT Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. Key provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens — you need to renew the PATRIOT Act.

This is the first graf to mention pending legislation and again it acknowledges no difficulties: he doesn’t refer to the fact that many towns and cities have passed laws against the implementation of the PA or try to persuade them that they should back it; he doesn’t mention the myriad numbers of police depts that are uncomfortable with its provisions and have said so publicly, some outright refusing to co-operate; he doesn’t even make a pitch for the PA itself. He uses the word “needs” twice without explaining its necessity except to say it’s “important for hunting terrorists”. He doesn’t even try to explain how it’s important. In this section we get the first example of Bush’s assertion-as-fact strategy.

America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this war. Last March, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of Sept. 11, awoke to find himself in the custody of U.S. and Pakistani authorities. Last August 11th brought the capture of the terrorist Hambali, who was a key player in the attack in Indonesia that killed over 200 people. We are tracking al-Qaida around the world — and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on a manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves — and, one by one, we will bring the terrorists to justice.

This graf claims many victories for his “war on terror”, some true but one demonstrably false–his first outright lie: “nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed.” A resurgent Taliban now controls sizeable sections of Afghanistan and are increasing their forces daily, most of them slipping across the border from Pakistan. By no one’s realistic–or rational–count could it be claimed that we have “captured or killed” 2/3 or anything like 2/3 of known Taliban leaders. Personally I’d be surprised if the number exceeded 5%, and that’s assuming that the majority of Taliban leaders are unknown.

As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.

This is as close as Junior gets to repeating his WMD argument from last year. Once again, despite the widespread criticism of his pre-Iraq claims he offers no actual evidence either that the regimes we are “confronting” support terrorists or that they “could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons” if they were. The two assertions are treated as undeniable facts that everyone knows and with which no reasonable person could differ, and he neither explains nor defends either statement.

The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al-Qaida killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school. With help from the new Afghan Army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against surviving members of the Taliban and al-Qaida. The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud, and fighting terror — and America is honored to be their friend.

The lies-by-omission in this graf are staggering. Had he said “Kabul” rather than “Afghanistan” or “the country”, he might have been able to make a plausible case, but the truth is that outside Kabul none of the conditions he lauds in fact exist–there are no schools operating in the countryside, women are being oppressed by the warlords and suppressed by the Taliban in the areas they control, and the “new Afghan Army” is a toothless joke, untrained, ill-equipped, and increasingly subject to the influence of the war lords. The picture he paints can only be considered a deliberate distortion–iow, a lie.

Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein — and the people of Iraq are free. Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows.

This is a repetition of Rumsfeld’s “remnant” meme which even his own commanders have debunked. Either this is another lie, or Junior is months behind the curve.

These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we are making progress against them. The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell. Of the top 55 officials of the former regime, we have captured or killed 45. Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day, and conducting an average of 180 raids every week. We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil regime.

The predictable gloating over Hussein’s capture–the cause of the last bump in his approval rating–is followed by a recitation of the number of army raids each week. He doesn’t mention that the vast majority of these raids–something in the 90th percentile–have turned up nothing useful and are alienating the population we supposedly just “freed”. (Incidentally, given past history, the numbers are probably bogus.)

The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right. Last January, Iraq’s only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of rights. We are working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends — but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.

Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome one of Iraq’s most respected leaders: the current President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi. Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation.

For the umpteenth time, bald assertion replaces fact and no acknowledgement of the difficulties involved or the dissension among the members of the IGC or the brewing revolt of the clerics or the split among the sects or the increasingly widespread criticism of the PCA within Iraq or any other potential difficulty is forthcoming. But then, the opening line told us it wouldn’t be.

Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Col. Gadhafi correctly judged that his country would be better off, and far more secure, without weapons of mass murder. Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible — and no one can now doubt the word of America.

A transparent attempt to link the Iraq invasion to Qadaffi’s decision. Given that negotiations with Qaddaffi had been going on for years and that there were only a few difficulties left to be resolved by the time of the invasion, it’s unlikely that fear of the US doing what it did to Iraq was the cause of that decision.

Different threats require different strategies. Along with nations in the region, we are insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear program. America and the international community are demanding that Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. America is committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous regimes.

This graf has virtually zero substance unless you link it to the preceding graf. He starts by referring to “[d]ifferent threats” and “different strategies” but the remainder of the graf makes no mention of anything “different”; the graf only makes sense if you assume that the Iraq invasion is making all American adversaries think twice about their anti-American positions lest the same thing happen to them. If you remember that the neocons have long preached the virtues of military action as intimidation, insisting that one pre-emptive strike would frighten our other enemies into backing down, then the mention of NKorea and Iran directly after pinning Libya’s decision to Iraq is a natural sequel. Otherwise there’s no point to its being there. We must conclude that the beginning phrase (“different threats”, “different strategies”) is political sleight-of-hand.

When I came to this rostrum on Sept. 20, 2001, I brought the police shield of a fallen officer, my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I gave to you and to all Americans my complete commitment to securing our country and defeating our enemies. And this pledge, given by one, has been kept by many. You in the Congress have provided the resources for our defense, and cast the difficult votes of war and peace. Our closest allies have been unwavering. America’s intelligence personnel and diplomats have been skilled and tireless.

Breath-taking, a shameless reminder of a sleazy, manipulative moment followed by a claim to have kept his “commitment” when in fact he had promised on that occasion to authorize $20B of federal money to help NY rebuild only to renege on that promise scant weeks later and fight his own party in Congress to eliminate the appropriation (the Congress did not eliminate it but they did cut it down to $5B on the strength of Junior’s insistence that the country “couldn’t afford more”).

And the men and women of the American military — they have taken the hardest duty. We have seen their skill and courage in armored charges, and midnight raids, and lonely hours on faithful watch. We have seen the joy when they return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost. I have had the honor of meeting our servicemen and women at many posts, from the deck of a carrier in the Pacific to a mess hall in Baghdad. Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.

This graf and the one before it are the first times we have seen the use of the pronoun “I”, first in a link with a policeman killed at the WTC and then in a link with the troops. Now, suddenly, it’s “I want you to know” and “my administration”, both used in the service of a promise to “give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror”, a promise that has already been broken: our troops in Iraq, almost from the beginning, have had to buy with their own money much of the equipment they need, from boots and clothing to night-vision goggles, because that equipment has not been available. Surely a curious place to take personal responsibility, especially since he has refused to attend a single funeral for any soldier killed in Iraq, and done so for purely political reasons.

Since the promise is worthless, I can only conclude that he is either angling for credit he doesn’t deserve after refusing to accept credit for what he actually did, or else that this is an attempt to identify himself with the military in the same way he earlier tried to identify himself with “the people”.

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime — a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. [An approach that has been very successful in other countries since the early 70’s–m] After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, tried, convicted and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of Sept. 11, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States — and war is what they got.

Small correction–war is what Afghanistan and Iraq got; the “terrorists” who attacked the WTC are either dead–or in jail due to the activities of law enforcement agencies. Except for bin Laden, of course, who remains free. Interesting that there was no mention of bin Laden, not even one of the many promises to “get him dead or alive” that we heard repeatedly with Hussein. Likewise, there was no acknowledgement whatever of the growing belief in many quarters that our focus on Iraq and military solutions has in fact made us less safe, much less an attempt to undermine their case. At least he has finally recognized and acknowledged a criticism. This is a first.

Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all the facts — already the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day. Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world. Iraq’s torture chambers would still be filled with victims — terrified and innocent. The killing fields of Iraq — where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children vanished into the sands — would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place.

Only the second acknowledgement of criticism, but it’s a beaut–as is his reply. Labeling the criticism “principled” (at least he didn’t stoop to calling critics “traitors” as many of his Republican supporters do), he attempts to counter it by painting a picture of the alternative so at variance with reality that if they aren’t lies, they have to be proof that his beliefs don’t need to be bolstered with “facts” for him to believe them. Claiming that he wanted all the “facts”, he says, “…already the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.” Dozens of weapons? Significant amounts of equipment? Kay found nothing–10-year-old missles whose range was under or barely over the limit set by the UN and a single vial of botulin, not weapons grade. In this sentence we have not one but two lies: the first claiming that items were found which were not found, and the second that the discoveries were detailed in Kay’s report when they were not. It’s impossible that he was unaware of these discrepancies, so they must have been deliberate falsehoods.

He then follows this highly inaccurate picture with a slap at the “weak” UN combined in the next breath with Saddam’s “torture chambers” and “killing fields”; the inference that one could not exist without the other is clear but he doesn’t attempt to explain the connection–he simply makes it and moves on, but the cleverly-implied connection sets up the next graf:

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq. As we debate at home, we must never ignore the vital contributions of our international partners or dismiss their sacrifices. From the beginning, America has sought international support for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.

The preceding graf–the dismissal of the UN as an important international body–allows him to make the point that we don’t need the UN because he can form one of his own. Made up of “willing partners”, Bush’s private UN is supposed to prove that his unilateral action wasn’t and that the UN is superfluous. To drive the point home, he compares UN ratification of pre-emptive war to “seek[ing] a permission slip” to leave class in high school. This is a dismissal of the UN charter so profound as to render the body meaningless. Is he preparing to pull the US out of the UN once and for all? Or does he just want his conservative base–which has never believed in the UN, often dismissing it as a “debating society”–to think that’s what he’s going to do? Either way, these two grafs taken together are a blow to the UN’s ability to act as a negotiator in cases of conflict–“If the US doesn’t care what the UN thinks, why should we?” After all, any country could put together a “coalition of the willing” if they were prepared to bribe a few poverty-stricken countries to sign the papers.

Altogether, a very ominous section.

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends. To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian — and soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region. I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, free markets, free press and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.

A re-statement of the neocon philosophy that democracy trumps every other system. These grafs could have been written, in all their over-heated fervor. by Wolfowitz or Perle–and probably were. The question is, “What if they don’t think so?” Like the neocons, Bush gives this possibility little attention since he, like the neocons that advise him, apparently cannot envision that a free people might choose a different system from the one he prefers. But a SOTU is probably not the place to have this discussion, iac.

America is a nation with a mission — and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace — a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great Republic will lead the cause of freedom.

A subtle attempt to counter the growing perception that America is, in fact if not law, becoming a 21st century empire. This graf is all assertion, but since it goes to “intent”, assertion is what is required. The question this raises is, quite simply, “Do you believe this assertion?”