Some thoughts on the President's State of the Union Speech:
The best parts of the domestic policy laundry list of Bush's SOTU speech were that he kept it relatively brief, courageously and correctly addressed the vital areas of judges, litigation reform, a Constitutional Marriage Amendment, and Social Security reform.
The laundry list is typically the most boring part of typically overlong SOTU addresses. Putting it at the beginning of the speech and building to an outward-looking crescendo was an outstanding development that will hopefully be reprised the next three years and beyond.
Among the items on the list:
America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. (Applause.) My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all. (Applause.)
Nice sentiment, but some specifics, some vetoes, and less expansive social spending would be nicer.
To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we're closing the achievement gap for minority students. Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success. We will help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career, by reforming our job training system and strengthening America's community colleges. And we'll make it easier for Americans to afford a college education, by increasing the size of Pell Grants. (Applause.)
Does this sound like fiscal restraint? One of the President's problems is that he often doesn't hasn't walked the walk of less intrusive, less expensive central government. He likes big government when he likes big government, as in No Child Left Behind, Campaign Finance Reform, and the costly Prescription Drug Entitlement.
To make our economy stronger and more competitive, America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs. Small business is the path of advancement, especially for women and minorities, so we must free small businesses from needless regulation and protect honest job-creators from junk lawsuits. (Applause.) Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back by irresponsible class-actions and frivolous asbestos claims -- and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year. (Applause.)
Wholehearted agreement. Trial lawyers need to be kicked in the teeth at every opportunity.
I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive health care agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor country, improved information technology to prevent medical error and needless costs, association health plans for small businesses and their employees -- (applause) -- expanded health savings accounts -- (applause) -- and medical liability reform that will reduce health care costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need. (Applause.)
Medical liability reform needs to happen yesterday. Other reforms that inhibit federal meddling and empower self-financing of health care are badly needed.
I'm assuming that "a community health center in every poor country" is a typo for "county," which indicates the President's affinity for big government health care. States are responsible for their counties, so this should be thwarted, otherwise future budget battles will hinge on what constitutes a poor county, and much pork would follow.
To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. (Applause.) Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home -- including safe, clean nuclear energy. (Applause.) My Clear Skies legislation will cut power plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens. (Applause.) And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology -- from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. (Applause.) Four years of debate is enough: I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy. (Applause.)
Nuclear energy, cleaner coal technology, and more domestic production are good ideas. Hydrogen cars are boondoggles and ethanol is farmbelt pork. The allusion to ANWAR was good, though I would have preferred it had been more explicit, but it's a minor quibble.
America's immigration system is also outdated -- unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists. (Applause.)
The weakest and least honest moment of what was an otherwise President Bush has given short shrift to border and interior enforcement against illegal aliens throughout his Presidency, and now wants to legalize twice as many illegal aliens as have previously been legalized in the History of the United States. Oh, but he opposes Amnesty.
Year after year, Americans are burdened by an archaic, incoherent federal tax code. I've appointed a bipartisan panel to examine the tax code from top to bottom. And when their recommendations are delivered, you and I will work together to give this nation a tax code that is pro-growth, easy to understand, and fair to all. (Applause.)
Wholehearted agreement, and then some. The entire tax code should fit on five single-sided sheets 8 x 11 paper, in 12 point type.
Better yet, abolish the income tax Constitutionally while authorizing a national sales tax that could never exceed 10%, without two-thirds supermajorities in Congress.
Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before. For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat -- and by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than $300 billion. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.
Bravo. Social Security reform is crucial, and is one of the President's strongest domestic cases for a mandate. His recent outreach to blacks on retirement reform and privatization was a particularly bold and positive step.
The Democrats heckled him when he stated that Social Security would be bankrupt by 2042. They'll cite studies in their behalf, while neglecting to mention that those studies also indicate that 30% cuts in benefits would be necessary to maintain solvency. Bush is proposing reforms that protect benefits, and the status quo can not achieve that without onerous tax increases on our children and grandchildren.
Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options. Some have suggested limiting benefits for wealthy retirees. Former Congressman Tim Penny has raised the possibility of indexing benefits to prices rather than wages. During the 1990s, my predecessor, President Clinton, spoke of increasing the retirement age. Former Senator John Breaux suggested discouraging early collection of Social Security benefits. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended changing the way benefits are calculated. All these ideas are on the table.
These were great rhetorical strokes. The Democrats are already trying to demagogue the issue, so the President stood with four prominent earlier Democrats in urging the need for bipartisanship in Social Security reform.
As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. (Applause.) Here is how the idea works. Right now, a set portion of the money you earn is taken out of your paycheck to pay for the Social Security benefits of today's retirees. If you're a younger worker, I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account, so you can build a nest egg for your own future.
Here's why the personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver -- and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security. In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children and -- or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away. (Applause.)
Personal retirement accounts are highly desirable, but the details will be interesting. Earlier the President properly declared that the benefits of those 55 or older would be secure. Would everyone under 55 then be considered a "younger worker" and eligible for the PRAs? Hopefully so.
Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges. For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage. (Applause.)
The President has the support of the American people and is on the right side of History here, Wavering and weak GOP legislators should fall in line.
Same-sex marriage is one of the great threats to American civilization, because the institution of marriage is the fundamental social unit of civilization. If the fundamentals are altered, everything changes, and the CMA is the only certain way of preventing rogue judges from "growing" our civilization into something unrecognizable.
Because courts must always deliver impartial justice, judges have a duty to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. (Applause.) As President, I have a constitutional responsibility to nominate men and women who understand the role of courts in our democracy, and are well-qualified to serve on the bench -- and I have done so. (Applause.) The Constitution also gives the Senate a responsibility: Every judicial nominee deserves an up or down vote. (Applause.)
In Iraq the Al Qaeda terrorists and the Ba'athist remnants sought to restore tyranny by preventing people from voting on their future. In Congress the Democrats seek to maintain judicial tyranny by preventing votes on the President's judicial nominees.
While the American Left isn't murderous, they do incline toward their own forms of totalitarianism.
In the three and a half years since September the 11th, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans. We've created a new department of government to defend our homeland, focused the FBI on preventing terrorism, begun to reform our intelligence agencies, broken up terror cells across the country, expanded research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, improved border security, and trained more than a half-million first responders. Police and firefighters, air marshals, researchers, and so many others are working every day to make our homeland safer, and we thank them all. (Applause.)
Other than the President's half-hearted approach to border security, this is a fair and commendable assessment of his Administration's responses to 9/11.
In the long-term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades. The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom. (Applause.) Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the "evil principle" of democracy. And we've declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. (Applause.)
The Zarqawi line can't be repeated and tossed into the faces of the American Left often enough. Whether or not they admit it, heir opposition to the President's conduct of the war in Iraq makes them strategic allies of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
I wince whenever I hear the "only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom" rhetorical flourishes. If by "the force" the President means the Author of History, he should plainly say so.
The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace. (Applause.)
The President is acknowledging law of realpolitik that democracies don't attack each other. We should encourage democracies, but we should also take caution that cultures not known for pluralistic instincts may prove to be exceptions. For example:
The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are now showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure. Tomorrow morning, Secretary of State Rice departs on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas. She will discuss with them how we and our friends can help the Palestinian people end terror and build the institutions of a peaceful, independent, democratic state. To promote this democracy, I will ask Congress for $350 million to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms. The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach -- and America will help them achieve that goal. (Applause.)
With the death of Arafat the Egyptian, the Arabs of the terror conglomerate called "the Palestinians" have used democracy to elect Abbas, aka abu Mazen, the financial bag man for many terrorist attacks and murders of Israelis, including the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre.
Democracy is always an experiment, even now in America. Abu Mazen represents the first experiment in terrorist democracy.
It's doubtful that a genocidal culture will lose their bloodlust through the ballot box.
To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East. (Applause.)
These were important points, especially focusing attention on Egypt and the Wahabbi jihadist state of Saudi Arabia, the nations that spawned all of the September 11th hijackers. Let the experiments in Muslim democracy reach every dusty corner of Islam. Whatever the result, there will be clarity that can only be achieved for making the attempt.
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act -- and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. (Applause.) Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you. (Applause.)
Syria and Iran are the two remaining Islamic poles of the declared Axis of Evil. The President reminds them that they should not expect inattention. Bush's solidarity with the people of Iran is admirable, but runs the risk of going the way of Eisenhower's similar remarks to the people of Hungary, if, like Eisenhower, he doesn't militarily prevent the slaughter of any uprising that his encouragement evokes. The first President Bush made a similar error with uprisings against Saddam Hussein after the Kuwait War, as did President Clinton with Iraqi uprisings in the mid-1990s.
All evidence to date indicates that the current President Bush is not inclined to repeat those mistakes, but it's not obvious we have sufficient military resources to avoid them, given current commitments, if any sort of Persian Tiananmen Square should seem imminent. Hopefully we do.
One of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all, to the soldiers." Eleven years ago, Safia's father was assassinated by Saddam's intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country -- and we are honored that she is with us tonight. (Applause.)
The terrorists and insurgents are violently opposed to democracy, and will continue to attack it. Yet, the terrorists' most powerful myth is being destroyed. The whole world is seeing that the car bombers and assassins are not only fighting coalition forces, they are trying to destroy the hopes of Iraqis, expressed in free elections. And the whole world now knows that a small group of extremists will not overturn the will of the Iraqi people. (Applause.)
A report on the ABC News yesterday said that it had been the quietest day of terrorism since American troops entered Iraq. The demoralization of the terrorists has to be demoralizing to those who still insist the war was wrong.
Recently an Iraqi interpreter said to a reporter, "Tell America not to abandon us." He and all Iraqis can be certain: While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come. (Applause.) We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out.
Yet Nancy Pelosi wants a date for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. She wants to take actions that would resuscitate the jihadists.
Hokay... Contrast Pelosi's attitude to those who have served and sacrificed for the war in Iraq, their loved ones, and liberated Iraqis:
Some of our servicemen and women have survived terrible injuries, and this grateful country will do everything we can to help them recover. (Applause.) And we have said farewell to some very good men and women, who died for our freedom, and whose memory this nation will honor forever.
One name we honor is Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine, and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror. She wrote, "When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said, 'You've done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you." Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood. (Applause.)
What followed was the most moving moment of any State of the Union Address of my lifetime. Safia Taleb al-Suhail, whose father was murdered by Saddam Hussein's regime, gave grateful embrace to Mrs. Norwood, whose son fell to insure that tyrants like Saddam could no longer murder innocent Iraqis with impunity. Those who could watch these two women, who've lost so much, and yet still fail to understand what has happened and is happening in Iraq lack ordinary capacities for reason and human empathy.
In these four years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events. We have known times of sorrow, and hours of uncertainty, and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us. The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom's power to change the world. We are all part of a great venture: To extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings.
As Franklin Roosevelt once reminded Americans, "Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth." And we live in the country where the biggest dreams are born. The abolition of slavery was only a dream -- until it was fulfilled. The liberation of Europe from fascism was only a dream -- until it was achieved. The fall of imperial communism was only a dream -- until, one day, it was accomplished. Our generation has dreams of its own, and we also go forward with confidence. The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable -- yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.
Thank you, and may God bless America. (Applause.)
Update: SOTU Roundups:
Check out The Glittering Eye
's Live Blogging Roundup, as well as Wizbang's State Of The Union Reaction Roundup and their roundup On The Democratic Response.
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