Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Lame Duck Quacks (Updated)

I just watched President Bush’s State of the Union Speech. All in all, I thought it was one of the strongest speeches I have ever heard him give. Bush spoke with a rare gravitas and clarity on all of the major issues. You can find the text of his speech here, as well as video and audio.

There is clearly a lot that Bush mentioned that just is not going to happen with the Democrats in control of Congress. That said, the best line of the night came when Bush tweaked the Democrats about making his tax cuts permanent:

Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.

Even Nancy Pelosi cracked a smile on camera for that one.

And Bush was singing sweet music to the conservative base, calling for balanced budgets, limitations on spending, and most importantly, a real cut back on earmarks. Admittedly, Bush's new found fiscal conservatism could qualify as the topic of an example sentence in Webster's Dictionary for the definition of "hypocrisy." Conservatives will not care.

Republicans spending the tax dollars of America like drunken Democrats and the scent of corruption associated with earmarks like the "bridge to nowhere" cost Republicans the election in 2006. Now Bush, if not all Republican lawmakers, has found religion on this issue. Bush just reclaimed the mantle of fiscal conservativism and helped out his party in the coming elections immensely.

As to the earmarks, Bush promised to veto spending bills that did not cut by half the number and cost of earmarks, and he promised to "issue an Executive Order that directs Federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by the Congress." What he is referring to is the habit of slipping earmarks into committee reports that then are treated as law despite the fact they have never been subject to a vote.

I was highly unimpressed with Bush's discussion of energy. You will recall that he signed into law last month a "bipartisan" energy bill that emphasized, in part, biofuels. What we are seeing around the world now, in large measure because of the biofuel program, is a steep rise in food prices that only portends to get only worse. This is bad for the economy and particularly hard on the poor. Moreover, biofuels are significantly less environmentally friendly than oil and gas. See here and here. Yet, in his speech, Bush seemed to be indicating his continued support for biofuels. I think that a huge mistake.

Another major theme in Bush's speech concerned the Protect America Act (PAA) which will sunset on Friday if the Congress does not act. The PAA closes the loopholes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act so that we can monitor communications between people on foreign soil without the necessity of a warrant. But it also contains a grant of immunity to private companies that assisted the government post 9-11 with intelligence gathering. The Democrats postponed a vote on that bill today because they did not want Bush to be able to say in his speech that the Democratic Congress voted down the bill.

The real problem for Democrats is that one of their constituencies, the tort lawyers, are eyeing a huge payday by suing the communications companies that voluntarily cooperated with the Justice Department post 9-11 in domestic intelligence gathering. Once again, for Democrats, partisan politics trumps our national security.

The majority of Bush's speech was given over to discussing Iraq. Bush covered the surge, noting the tremendous success it has had in quelling the violence in Iraq that was, in large measure, driven by al Qaeda terrorists and Iran. Bush also spelled out the successes of the government of Iraq, noting the progress towards provincial elections, the equal sharing of oil revenue, and the recent passage of both a de-Baathification law and pension law. Those last two mark substantial progress towards reconciliation. Most important of all was Bush spelling out the potential fruits of victory and the consequences of failure in Iraq.

Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders. General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the "disintegration of the Iraqi Security Forces, Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground, [and] a marked increase in violence." Members of Congress: Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen. . . .

The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our Nation. But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed. A free Iraq will deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. And a free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror, and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world.

By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear. At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, Al Qaeda's top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington. My fellow Americans: We will not rest either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated. We must do the difficult work today, so that years from now people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight, and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America.

Bush also touched on Iran, but only in relative passing. The NIE on Iran neutered our ability to hold out the threat of force to coerce the mad mullahs into ending ever quickening march towards a nuclear weapon, and it showed in the speech. Bush all but announced our capitulation on that issue tonight. Further – and maddeningly – he took note that Iran is responsible for the death of our soldiers in Iraq, and then just let the topic drop there. Although Bush tried to sound bellicose, the words "act of war" were left unsaid. It was all very hollow - and in the end, I think may only encourage further acts of deadly meddling by Iran's theocrats.

Bush's speech was wide ranging, but those were the highs and lows as I saw them. You can find the WaPo spin here, and an ironic bit of "fact checking" here. What an incredibly disingenuous bit that WaPo fact checking is. And you will find some stomach churning spin from the NYT here. You can also find Fred Barnes take on the speech here.

And unless I am really reading the signals wrong, open season was just declared in Demland for Hillary hunting. First there was the Kennedy clan endorsing Obama today. Then there was what occurred tonight.

Hillary Clinton's name did not come up in the State of the Union Speech by the President. Nor did it explicitly come up when Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius gave the Democratic Respone. But read this portion of Sebelius's speech:

And so I want to take a slight detour from tradition on this State of the Union night. In this time, normally reserved for a partisan response, I hope to offer something more: An American response. A national call to action on behalf of the struggling families in the heartland and across this great country. A wake-up call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, . . .

You can find the full speech here. Wow. What does it say when the official response of the Democratic Party adopts the themes of Obama and reads like one of his stump speechs? Obama just got a huge DNC embrace . . . and it would appear that Hillary has fallen from grace in a very big way.

As an aside, Sebelius was even more wooden reading from a teleprompter than Gore at his worst. And as to the substance of the speech, it was a typical call for the President to put aside partisanship and just, by golly, show your true support for America -- by agreeing to every socialist program the Democrats can dream up. In other words, it really was an Obama stump speech.

Final Score:

President Bush – 7

Obama – 3

Fox News - 0 and need to give Major Garrat a crash course on professional journalism.

Hillary Clinton - 0 and feeling hunted.

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