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Responses to State of the Union Address, 2003
January 28, 2003

Curt Smith
Speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush

For a speechwriter, the State of the Union address weds the best and worst of worlds. Best: the honor. Worst: the need to balance vision, detail, and varied publics. President Bush walked that fine line superbly tonight. He was persuasive, forceful, and above all, Presidential. If the past is prologue, this address positions Bush to forge 2003's agenda at home and abroad.


John M. Murphy
University of Georgia

This speech was one of the more partisan addresses in recent years.

Although there were some nice moments--particularly his proposal for African AIDS relief and his defense of the conduct of the war on terror--the speech did nothing to reach out to those who have doubts about or disagree with his policies. Most state of the union addresses call for bipartisan cooperation; this speech, in contrast to his famous September 20, 2001 address, never did. Most states of the union pick out a specific member of the opposition party to praise, as President Bush did in years past; this speech did not. Most states of the union refrain from sarcastic partisan attacks; this speech claimed alternative health plans would cause rationing. Most States of the union seek international cooperation; this state of the union declared the determination to go it alone.

Strictly partisan states on the union sometimes work, but usually only in election years, as one did for FDR in 1936. It will be interesting to see if a speech this narrowly crafted can persuade the American people. One additional note: by so prominently advertising Secretary Powell's speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, the President raised the expectations for an Adlai Stevenson performance--for definitive evidence of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction. It will be interesting to see if Powell can live up to that standard.


Mark Moore
Oregon State University

My assessment of the speech: Lacking in substance (or anything new), full of sound and fury (and so grateful that he is learning how to follow the tele-prompt with a blue tie on, and knowing that he is now actually quite concerned about AIDS in Africa after announcing that he has a "Bio-shield" that will protect him in the long run from, you know, whatever Powell might have to press for him), my hope and prayer is, for him to lead us not into evil, but to deliver us from temptation, so that we may not be led by a cheer leader, but by a real leader, if there are any left.


Davis Houck
Florida State University

It seems that timing was on George W. Bush's side tonight as he delivered his most important State of the Union in his presidency. With the public's appetite for a war with Iraq declining almost daily, this address will surely give the president a lift in the short-run; it remains to be seen whether others in the administration--notably Colin Powell's upcoming speech at the U.N. on February 5 which the president previewed--can catalyze that short-term gain into long-term commitments.

Bush clearly gained rhetorical momentum as he proceeded through his hour-long address. It's clear that Bush likes a good fight and this address did nothing to suggest otherwise. At the heart of his case against Iraq, Bush responded to the call for more evidence with six ostensible proofs of Hussein's intransigence. Whether this combination of sources suggesting that Iraq indeed "has much to hide" will carry the day at home and abroad remains to be seen. Suffice it to say that the public's skepticism is being taken seriously at the White House.

The unresolved ambivalence in Bush's message tonight involved the specifics of a possible attack: would the U.S. "lead a coalition" to disarm Saddam,or will the nation not "depend on others" as the U.N. continues its deliberations?

Finally, it was hard to listen tonight and not be reminded of Ronald Reagan. Not only did President Bush employ the logic and rhetoric of supply-side economics to justify further tax cuts to stimulate the economy, but the pronounced optimism, the sense of divine mission, the clear link between American Democracy and its proud history of reluctant intervention, and the moral imperative of America's foreign policy--all of these were staples of Reagan's American story. And, while Bush certainly isn't comfortable with the language of the transcendent and the drama of individualism heroism in the manner of Reagan, the sentiments are strikingly similar.


Mary Stuckey
Georgia State University

This was an especially difficult speech as the demands made upon it were so high. Bush was supposed to address both economic concerns and foreign policy fears. He chose to do this by conveying, directly and indirectly, American resolve as a key theme of the speech. And it probably worked better or his supporters than for his detractors. This was not a speech that changed many minds.

There was some (very self-conscious) poetry, none of it memorable. This speech did not soar. States of the Union so rarely do, however, this is perhaps an unfair standard.

There were some discordant notes--such as the line about "put it this way, they are not a problem for America any more" (that is not the exact quotation), which, I suspect, reinforced the dreaded "cowboy" image.

There were a number of moments that coopted Democratic positions on issues, in the best traditions of Reagan and Clinton--items that he can freely ask for, being fairly sure that a Republican Congress will not pass them, thus giving him the issue without having to actually pay for it--and the discussion of how to pay for anything was noticeably absent.

Domestic policy got fairly short shrift; as did most foreign policy. The parts on Iraq were of a piece with his rhetoric on Iraq generally; there are so many reasons for going to war (is it because Saddam=Hitler? Because of weapons of mass destruction? Denial of human rights? Because Americans must fight evil in all of its manifestations?) that it is not clear why we must go to war.

In all, it was an adequate speech, but not one that will serve to fully justify war abroad or his agenda here at home.


Karrin Vasby Anderson
Colorado State University

President Bush began his 2002 state of the union address by rallying audience support for his war on terrorism. Merging themes of “homeland” and “economic” security, Bush tried to foster approval for his domestic policy by linking it semantically and politically to the foreign policy that many U.S. citizens supported. The Republican sweep in the midterm election, for which the President received much of the credit, suggested that Bush’s strategy was successful. In tonight’s state of the union address, Bush began by responding to the domestic woes that weighed heavily on the minds of so many Americans. He learned the lesson of his father’s presidency: when Americans are under economic strain, the president cannot count on the momentum created by approval for foreign policy to carry him to the White House for a second term. Semantically, however, Bush continued the strategy of linking his domestic policy to the broader issue of security, announcing that we have a “duty to reform domestic programs vital to our country.”

In his discussion of the domestic agenda, Bush made the savvy rhetorical move of coopting the Democratic agenda, emphasizing problems such as joblessness, health-care reform, and environmental awareness. The president’s proposed policy solutions, however, appealed to his conservative supporters. Many Americans currently feel that the division between Democrats and Republicans is eroding—that a clear distinction cannot be drawn between the two major parties, in large part because they purport concern for the same problems. Bush’s state of the union address reminds citizens that the difference between the major political parties in the United States today is not necessarily the issues they address but the particular solutions they propose for shared problems.

When Bush turned to foreign policy, his explicit attempt to assure Americans that he was winning the war against terrorism was designed to heighten fear and exacerbate the feeling that aggressive action against terrorists (and potential allies of terrorists such as Iraq) is warranted. He noted that some days go by when the general public does not hear about terrorist threats, but not a day goes by when he is not made aware of new threats and existing plots. This assertion functioned as a tacit rebuttal to the vocal minority of citizens who oppose war against Iraq and question the erosion of civil liberties that has resulted from the war on terror. Bush articulated a foreign policy that went beyond Ronald Reagan’s posture of peace through strength. He posited preemptive strike as defensive maneuver. With respect to Project Bio Shield, Bush asserted that we must assume that our enemies will use these [biological] weapons and we must act before the dangers are upon us. He urged that if Saddam Hussein did not voluntarily disarm, “for the safety of our people, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Bush stated that “sometimes peace must be defended,” and inhabited the defensive/preemptive posture with phrases like, “if war is forced upon us . . . .” Bush created a paradoxical persona for the United States. On one hand our nation leads the world—in fighting AIDS, in fighting terrorism, in defending freedom. Conversely, however, we are easily goaded into a defensive military posture. As Americans continue to deliberate about the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq, the paradox of preemptive strike as defensive maneuver must be recognized, articulated, and debated.


Thomas W. Benson
Penn State University

A presidential State of the Union Address is usually not a place for genuine deliberation, and yet it is a focal point for deliberation. In creating the "laundry list" of administration proposals that goes into every State of the Union Address (despite repeated efforts by presidents to avoid getting bogged down in the list), every major department of the Executive Branch urges its priorities on the White House. For this reason, the process of creating the State of the Union Address helps to focus decision making.

The form of the speech itself, and this was true of the first, "domestic" half of President George Bush's speech of January 28, 2003, is not deliberative in form or appeal. It tends to be a collection of short paragraphs in which a program is linked to a principle, often a highly partisan principle, leading to rousing applause from the president's party. Just such a rhythm was working in the domestic policy half of tonight's speech, and even the president seemed disconnected from the list -- as he paused during the applause following a punch line, he sought out friends in the chamber and gave them special nods and smiles, as if the speech was in another time zone.

When he turned to foreign policy, the president changed not only mood but also rhetorical structure, devoting more time to explanation and advocacy. As he spoke about Iraq, he developed a case that differed from the rhythm of most recent State of the Union Addresses in sustaining long passages that were not interrupted by applause--not, presumably, because his listeners disagreed but because he was actually engaging in, by today's standards for such an address, prolonged, deliberative argumentation. Americans will differ on whether the case against Iraq was new or compelling, but it seems to me that it is worth noting how the rhetoric itself was changed from its generic form to suit the occasion.

Still, the State of the Union Address is only part of a larger deliberative process, developed inside the administration in the months leading up to the speech, and extending to the Congress, press, and public in the weeks to come. Curiously, we are likely to have much more extended deliberation now about those domestic matters that the president addressed only briefly with short paragraphs intended to provoke applause; at the same time, the question of whether we are now to go to war in Iraq may be beyond the point where extended Congressional deliberation is likely to be decisive.


Fred I. Greenstein
Princeton University

George W. Bush has been compared with Ronald Reagan, both in the depth of his conservatism and his insistence on pursuing clearly stipulated goals, but will never compare with Reagan (or FDR, or JFK) as a public communicator. Still, there has been a dramatic improvement in his use of the bully pulpit during his two years in office. In contrast with the halting, awkward delivery of his inaugural address on January 20, 2001, Bush is now capable of addressing the nation and world with force and evident conviction.

In the case of tonight State of the Union Address, Bush had the advantage of a well-crafted, cogent, and sometimes eloquent text. His presentation (which he had repeatedly rehearsed) was fluent. In contrast to the pre-9/11 period, he also seemed completely at ease. These remarks are about the quality of Bush's rhetoric and the effectiveness of his delivery, not the merits of his policies. These are bound to be viewed through the prism of one's personal beliefs and partisan commitments. Still, it was an address that should advance the president's purposes, domestically and abroad. If not a home run, a definite base hit.


Stephen E. Lucas
University of Wisconsin

Effectively written and organized, Bush's speech was technically very sound. He introduced points clearly and explained them as fully as can be expected in a State of the Union address. Rather than presenting a rambling laundry list of proposals, he limited himself to six major topics--the economy, health care, energy independence, compassion for the needy, foreign policy in general, and the war on terrorism in particular.

He made a wise decision to deal with domestic issues first and to save Iraq for the end of the speech. Otherwise, the speech would have been anticlimactic in structure. He also used the classical rhetorical devices of repetition and parallelism to help clarify and reinforce his ideas. His delivery continues to improve with each major speech. I suspect he will get high marks from the public for his leadership skills as a result of this address. His gestures, pauses, timing, and pacing were all markedly better than in last year's State of the Union and show that, unlike his father, he understands that a strong set of rhetorical skills are essential to presidential leadership.

There were several noteworthy parts of the address, but to my mind the strongest section was that dealing with the AIDS crisis in Africa. This is one of the great moral and humanitarian crises of our time, and Bush addressed it with considerable effectiveness.

With respect to a possible war with Iraq, he provided a forceful brief of his position and set the stage for Colin Powell's address to the United Nations. He did not make a final case for war, but that was not the aim of the speech. This address was the opening volley in what will be a fusillade of speeches, briefings, op-eds, talk-show interviews, and the like that, if war comes, will culminate in a presidential address to the nation on that subject alone.


Steven R. Goldzwig
Marquette University

President Bush had a tall order to fulfill in tonight’s State of the Union address. The demands were as complex as they were disparate. In trying to deal with both domestic policy and impending war with Iraq, the president risked a diminution of emphasis and attention span.

I believe he chose wisely in placing the domestic goals as the first items for coverage in the speech. While this discussion was largely flat, the selection helped keep viewers and listeners tuned in who were looking for news about the pending war.

One minor surprise in Bush’s address was the announced AIDS package for Africa. After the AIDS announcement, Bush appeared to be more animated and he moved into the discussion of the war on terrorism with added alacrity.

Bush mounted an incredible list of Saddam’s transgressions, but much of it was already reported. In his effort to list the scope and depth of evils associated with the regime, Bush almost seemed to relish speaking about the torture, rape, and murder he catalogued. He drew the dark and shadowy lines of a monster that must be destroyed. As to weapons of mass destruction, Bush’s repeated mantra that Saddam "has not accounted for the materials" and that he has "given no evidence that he has destroyed them" was an effective form of repetition. One distinct failure in the speech, however, was the accusation that Saddam Hussein can be linked to Al Quaida. Bush made the charge but provided no evidence and gave no support. The claim passed by quickly and meekly.

One of the most troubling aspects of the speech was that Bush seemed to play directly to fears that the decision to go to war with Iraq because of its refusal to give up weapons of mass destruction would potentially be just the first in a series of actions conducted at U.S. discretion which will be mounted to liberate peoples and nations from other "outlaw regimes." This implied worldwide quest to ensure democracy wherever it might falter, to take on every tyrant, to dispel each tinhorn dictator one-by-one, seemed a tad megalomaniacal. This kind of posturing could not help but add fuel to the fire of mounting fears of our European allies and other nations around the world. Here, the "cowboy image" was enhanced by Bush’s overblown discourse. While "free people will set the course of history," is a clever and perhaps memorable line, its repercussions announce a new Bush Doctrine which may be as ominous as it is ambitious.

Bush delivered a pre-declaration of war. The bellicose theme and tone of the address left an overwhelming impression that the United States is going to war. While the full case for "disarming" the Iraqi "dictator" was promised in an upcoming address by Colin Powell on February 5th, President Bush left little doubt of his intention to go to war and to see it through-- unilaterally if necessary.

The world and our nation can only hope that Mr. Hussein is listening and that he will take the steps to avoid the next phase in this conflict. It is obvious to me that George W. Bush’s patience has run out, that he has ruled out any further need for listening or dialogue, and with it, all hope for peace.


Mari Boor Tonn
University of Maryland

President Bush's State of the Union speech was replete with numerous tensions, some practical, some rhetorical, and some philosophical. On a practical level, he did not adequately explain how he planned to reconcile his sizable tax cut proposals with the price tag of his various initiatives regarding universal affordable health care, environmental research, aid to Africa for AIDS prevention and treatment, drug addiction programs, new homeland security demands, and, of course, a possible prolonged war with Iraq, all without passing the cost of current problems to, in his words, "other generations." Rhetorically, his constant appeals to unity were at odds with the unusually partisan nature of some of his early remarks in the domestic portion of his speech, such as his appeals to changing tax laws for investors and his attacks upon trial lawyers.

Moreover, his suggestion that the economy is "recovering" and his talk of the current state as "after recession" implies an improvement in the economic situation that those affected by unemployment rising would likely dispute. Philosophically, the President appears conflicted about the role of government and the meaning of citizenship.

At times, he appears committed to the power of the individual, whether it is in boosting the economy through personal spending, privatizing aspects of health care, or mentoring children and prisoners. At other times, however, he exudes commitment to the power of and obligation for the collective, most particularly in his proposal for AIDS relief and his discussion of soldiers sacrificing selves for the safety of the nation and the world. So, too, his section on dealing with various rogue nations--Iran, North Korea, and Iraq--was inconsistent. Although he claimed that "Different threats require different strategies," his discussion of Iran, for example, did not discuss any type of strategy at all.

With regards to North Korea, he described the United States cooperation with various countries "to find a peaceful solution" and did not raise any specter of military confrontation. His approach to Iraq, of course, is markedly different in that the prospect of war is made all but imminent. The result, I predict, is that the likely bump in approval ratings typically occasioned by State of the Union speeches will be of short "duration."


Roderick P. Hart
University of Texas at Austin

George W. Bush is a president for our times. Bad economy. Dangerous weapons. Shocking diseases. Worried seniors. Nervous nations. Mr. Bush's mind is a mind for our times -- declarative, not interrogative. This is a president who knows what he knows and who never thinks beyond his reach. Never looks back. Looks forward only to next Tuesday.

George Bush's rhetoric is a rhetoric for our times. Short sentences. Short phrases. Short words. There is nothing liquid about this president, nothing mellifluous. His utterances do not flow. They are built one atop the other until it is time to stop. His is not a rhetoric for the mind (like Kennedy's) or the heart (like Reagan's or Clinton's). It is a rhetoric for the solar plexus. He speaks in short, guttural moments, delivering thoughts directly to the belly. Evil Saddam. Evil AIDS. Evil taxes. No words wasted.

George W. Bush is a president for our times with a rhetoric for our times. But times change. Sometimes rapidly. Wars are won and presidencies lost. The specter of Dad lingers. Mr. Bush, the younger, must keep pace.

James R. Andrews
Indiana University

George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address was, as these things often are, a theatrical event. First came the pre-speech hype. Pundits and reporters, who tend to embrace the notion that rhetoric is entirely separate from action, ironically began last week to describe this as Mr. Bush’s most important speech since 9/11, or the most important speech of his presidency, or the most important speech of his political career. The White House described Bush as hard at work on the speech, conferring with advisers, rehearsing drafts. Also, the White House joined in with the press and the opposition to explain what the president had to accomplish. By the time the speech began, could there possibly be anyone who didn’t know that the president had to address the economic crisis and make a case for going to war with Iraq sooner rather than later?

Then, the setting for a presidential speech to Congress is always dramatic—especially when this annual presentation coincides with events portentous enough to, in Lyndon Johnson’s words, summon “into convocation all the majesty of this great government.” (Although, given the practice of recent presidential appearances, there must have been a momentary temptation to remove the flag, the Speaker, and the Vice President and substitute a blue background with multiple renderings of the slogan for the day, something like “Saddam is Evil,” or “It’s Iraq, stupid.”) Given this gilded center stage, an audience that will be (on one side) enthusiastic, ready to jump to their feet at the slightest opportunity, and (on the other side) auditors who will at least feign politeness, and armed with a speech chock full of carefully scripted moments (probably underlined and bolded in advance copies so that the news media will not miss the appropriate sound bites) any president would be buoyed. This president, whose self-confidence is apparently boundless, is at his best in such a situation.

The performance itself began with the promised effort to reassure the country that domestic problems would be solved, the economy would recover, the environment would be preserved. If ever the adjectival “mere” was appropriately affixed to rhetoric, this was the time. The first part of the speech was a clear demonstration of Rod Hart’s observation of several years ago that presidential speech is often taken for action—to talk about a problem is akin to doing something about it. Scholars of language all know that meanings can be illusive and multiple, but it is hard to accept the Alice in Wonderland quality of political discourse sometimes. Virtually every domestic issue was framed in language that belies the actions of the administration. Calling, for example, for a “healthy forest initiative,” does not make George W. Bush a tree-hugger, nor does it erase the horrendous environmental record of the Bush Administration. But powerful is the belief that rhetoric does matter: presidential strategists seem to be convinced that the elder Bush fell afoul of the economy because he didn’t talk about it, and therefore, didn’t seem to care enough about it. So this Bush is determined to talk about domestic issues to demonstrate his compassion and to project the illusion of leadership. Beginning the speech with domestic issues appears to have been in perfect tactical alignment with such a strategy. Much was made, particularly by the White House and its supporters, both before the speech and in the spin time, of the fact that the president put domestic issues first. Well, we might all consider the old primacy vs. recency issue: does your best argument come first or last? George Bush got through the part of the speech that was bound to cause most controversy and offer Democrats the most critical fodder in order to move to the more dramatic, climactic questions of war and peace.

There was little new in the way of argument in the Iraq portion of the speech, although more specific data to buttress the assertion of Saddam’s deceptiveness was offered, and gruesome details of unpardonable actions rehearsed. The fact that the Iraqi regime is devious and oppressive is not, however, widely contested. (There have, after all, been regimes--one could mention Chile, for example--that deserved condemnation but instead received American approbation.) But the issue, of course, is if and when there should be war. Mr. Bush has probably succeeded in making the if more and more problematic; he has succeeded in creating a momentum of inevitability. But he is still left with the why it is in America’s vital interest to overthrow Saddam, and, of prime importance, when this should be done. Making this case, it is now suggested, will be done in the style of a sustained campaign, with Secretary Powell leading off at the U.N. For now, the president invited us to “imagine” what could happen—a frightening picture of rampant terrorism that would dwarf 9/11 (and reminiscent of the dire pictures painted by those who predicted nuclear holocaust in the 1980’s.) The fear of the possible consequences seemed designed to counter any rational demand for direct, substantial evidence.

We were all told before the speech that this was a message directed toward a world, as well as an American, audience. Clearly the message that the United States would act regardless of world opinion was obvious and doesn’t need much comment. Nevertheless, it did appear that Mr. Bush made some attempt to downplay the “cowboy style” of which so many European have complained of late. There was almost none of the finger-pointing (the implied six-shooter) and relatively little “smok’n em out” rhetoric—although a snatch or two could not be repressed, as when, in describing the capture of terrorists, he added that “many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way: they are no longer a problem for the United States and its friends and allies.” (Blow the smoke from the barrel and slip the shooting iron back in the holster.) And, of course, this Texas Ranger, riding tall in the saddle, the steely glint of determined leadership in his eye, asserted that “Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.”

In the aftermath of the speech today, it doesn’t look like skeptical Europeans are convinced—although they certainly will be evaluating their own best interests in cooperating with the United States or holding aloof. And at home, Democrats will recognize and attack the hollow promises of domestic programs whose strength is only in the positive names given to them. On Iraq this was likely a speech to reinforce attitudes and beliefs and not really one crafted to change many minds. Mr. Bush has framed the time since 9/11 as one in which this country has gone from “bitter division in small matters to clam unity in great causes.” Mr. Bush clearly sees himself (and expects the rest of us to see him) as associated with a great cause that demands unity and will book no opposition. Peace advocates, he implies, threaten the unity and resolve demanded in this time when our young men and women are preparing to make what might be the ultimate sacrifice (always an almost unanswerable appeal). Democrats may turn their attention to carping about “small matters”-- such as job creation, unemployment benefits, an astronomical deficit—but the real issue, the president wants us to believe, is whether we can remain safe, defend our allies, and carry on America’s historic mission: to be the instrument through which liberty, “God’s gift to humanity,” can be spread.

Years ago, Dana Carvey did a rendering of George Bush the elder giving a speech to Congress. In Cary’s impersonation, whenever the president got bogged down, he would randomly throw in the words, “Gulf War,” to which the Congressional audience rose as a body and rewarded Mr. Bush with thunderous applause. The latest George Bush seems bent on the same tactic to answer all critics and overpower all opposition. “Gulf War!! Gulf War!!”


Jim Aune
Texas A & M University

I always thought Kenneth Burke went overboard in believing in the Unconscious, but after this bit of unconscious self-revelation in Bush's speech last night, I think I'll change my mind:

"Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations … built armies and arsenals … and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit."


Donald G. Ellis
University of Hartford

Bush gave two speeches. One was domestic and the other international. The domestic speech was routine, formulaic, and deceptive. Deceptive because attaching tax cuts to growth is deceptive. As is pretty clear, these cuts will benefit no one but a few wealthy, and talking about average cuts is meant to deceive. As one columnist put it, "it is like sending Bill Gates into the corner bar and then concluding that every man in the bar now had a net worth of over a million dollars." The beginning of the speech stuck to the basic formula of linking one program with one principle and then claiming support for the program and principle. Of course, none of this was deliberative or critical but I suppose we should not expect much more.

The second speech was of course concerned with Iraq and it reached a bit more eloquence, which is easier when it comes to international affairs. It was smoother and cleanly organized. There was even a moment or two when some intensity was rising but this did last long. War with Iraq is what must be sold to the American people and the President is failing. The average fellow on the street is not convinced, even if the case can be made. Here is where Bush needs to speak in a manner he is least able. Here is where he needs data and convincing argument rather than principled rhetorical flourish. Perhaps he is holding his fire but this is a communicative mistake. The country is polarizing and hardening. Those who are drifting away from military confrontation with Iraq will not be brought back with any one speech, even if it is Powell in front of the UN. If nothing else, it is all going to be interesting.


Herbert W. Simons
Temple University

Fortune Cookie: “Purpose of oratory is persuasion, not truth.”

True of Bush’s speech. Another saying: In time of war, the first victim is truth.

Was Bush persuasive? Yes!

1. Well crafted, well organized. Imagine if it had been re-arranged. After Iraq, domestic front would have been anti-climactic.
a. memorable language of good vs. evil (melodrama) and of U.S. determination.
b. e.g., Our resolve is firm. Iraqi people’s greatest enemy is within.

2. Bush steady at the wheel. Confident, messianic, w/o being histrionic.

3. Cowboy persona on Iraq, terrorism, as befits his substantive message; compassionate, warm on domestic issues and on aid for AIDS.

Truth? In one sense, yes. He tends to do what he says he’s going to do. Example: last year’s tax cuts, mainly to the top 1%. He’ll fight for more of the same in this go-round. Bush sounds and IS (in a sense) sincere.

But Bush’s message was dangerously deceptive on both the domestic and int’l fronts.

1. Domestic – A. Hope for all re tax cut disguises disproportionate benefit to the rich: 42% of benefits to top 1%. Even more so with elimination of the Estate Tax, says Bill Gates and his dad, head of the Gates Foundation. B. We achieved historic education reform. Really? When? What did it include? Where’s the evidence of change in our urban schools? C. Tax relief brought US out of recession, said GWB. It did?

2. Int’l – Litany of Iraq’s evil intentions includes claims that even his own people have discredited. E.g., Aluminum casings have no value re nuclear weapons development.

More important than factual inaccuracy is his framing of the Iraq Invasion controversy.

1. Personification, oversimplification – the new Hitler

2. Bad history –no mention of his dad’s role in keeping SH in power; of U.S. willingness to look the other way as he gassed his own people as well as the Iranians.

3. No mention of what Thomas Friedman called “The Day After.” What happens after we’ve knocked SH from power? What’s the scenario? Does the U.S. impose a new leader by force in the name of democracy? Sounds a bit contradictory. Do U.S. forces patrol the streets of Baghdad? What do we do if Kurds in Northern Iraq seize oil rich areas currently populated by ethnic Turks? What if Shi’ites in the South of Iraq line up with mullahs of Iran? Suppose Saddam hotfoots it out but leaves other members of his party to rule Iraq. Do we disqualify them—all 0f them? What if before he leaves he wreaks havoc on oil fields—his own and maybe Kuwait’s. Etc. GWB made things too simple.

4. A criticism by Tom Daschle rings true: Administration’s message on Iraq hasn’t been consistent.
a. Disarm Iraq? Is that the goal? Why? For whom is SH an immediate threat? And what really is the connection to terrorists – Al Qaida? What’s the rationale for a pre-emptive attack?
b. Regime change?
c. A first step in democratizing the entire region—Palestinian authority included? Iran included? (An incentive here for other nations to go nuclear on an accelerated timetable?)
d. Is this really a fight for bragging rights? We ARE the one and only superpower. We welcome snipings by the French and the Germans. Proof ultimately that we can work our will w/o their help.
e. Is this about oil? To run our SUVs? To exercise control over oil-starved economies like N. Korea and to keep oil-dependent countries like Japan from becoming too independent?

On balance, a very effective speech. Polls will reflect it. Media will be muzzled, even more than before. Nothing succeeds better at mobilizing public opinion than magnifying an external threat and demonstrating resolve at combating it. Iraq is also a great distraction.

But GWB is playing a very dangerous game. Huge domestic deficits. Not doing what’s needed in the way of a stimulus package. Short-term thinking re Iraq and responding to terrorism is likely to foment further int’l resentment. High stakes poker, even against our usual allies.

A possibility that buildup of forces together with incendiary rhetoric will function as a persuasive threat. SH and his ruling party will skip town, preventing a blood bath. Iraqi citizens will toss sweets to American soldiers as they ride into Baghdad. Saudis, Turks, even the French and Germans will fall into line. Would-be terrorists will see that terrorism doesn’t pay (the Sharon model).


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