Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Referencing the Bible

As promised, I missed the State of the Union. I feel bad about that in principle, but I don't care to watch the president, nor do I care for his voice or demeanor, so while I feel like I didn't do my civic duty, I don't really feel worse off. I had a nice evening, succeeded in having a couple glasses of the Free State Brewery's excellent beer, and I can now read the text of the speech.

What I dislike about President Bush's presentation is that he comes across like the mildly annoying drunk guy at a bar. So long as he's saying inoffensive jibberish, or maybe holding forth on the superiority of your favorite baseball team (the Cubs), he's fine. You can tune him out when he gets too silly, but so long as he stays on safe territory, he makes pleasant enough background noise. But if you pay too close attention, or God forbid if you disagree with something he says, he invades every private part of your brain with his chatter, and it's inescapable. You feel the urge to shout him down, but politeness and respect keep you in your seat. President Bush has probably not said a word since taking office that was meant to make any people who didn't agree with his take change their minds. If you agree with him, his speeches stroke your ego enough that you come away feeling good, I suppose. I always feel like I've spent a major chunk of my life in the guise of a mushroom: kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

Thankfully, the Washington Post has the text of the speech up, so I can at least control the imagined delivery of mediocre writing.

President Bush's State of the Union Address:
When they murder children at a school in Beslan or blow up commuters in London or behead a bound captive, the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth.
This is a cute little reference to the beatitudes, a marvelous speech about how the meek would inherit the earth. By contrast, we are the people Jesus loves. Jesus, the guy who liked to turn the other cheek, the guy who was all about forgiving your neighbor when he does evil against you. The guy who made a point of not fighting for his own freedom.
But they have miscalculated. We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores.

There is no peace in retreat.
How very un-Jesusy. Which is fine, except that he set us up as the people Jesus would pick, the meek who should inherit the earth.

It may be good rhetoric, but it's not even mediocre writing, it's incompetent writing that doesn't understand what it's referring to. And coming from the uber-Christian in Chief (who doesn't attend church in Washington), it's disappointing. But we must be strong and forge ahead through disappointment. It's what Jesus would do.

Then he talks about his secret plan for Iraq, a stable government, reconstruction, and beating the terrorists. That sounds familiar, I think I heard it 3 years ago. I bet Bob Woodruff will have all sorts of funny stories to tell about those "Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy." Like the ones he was driving around with in an unarmored truck that got blown up. Good times.

This section was clearly intended to be run as a loop:

At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces.
At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces.
Repeat endlessly in each city for year after year and death after death.

Casting his mighty eye slightly west and south of the merry-go-round that is modern Iraq, he resolved the problems of the Palestinian people:

The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace.
Is that all? Shouldn't they give every Palestinian a free pony while they're at it?

But he had tough words for a nearly nuclear Iran:

We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.
With ponies for everyone!

Good writing, especially good speech writing, rests heavily on parallelism. It's a great tool for carrying an audience with you. Consider this:

We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God- given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery.
HIV/AIDS, malaria, genocide, slavery. Look for those ideas in the second part:

In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform.
Yes, AIDS, malaria, education, and reform. What happened to preventing genocide? I'm sure remedying the death and displacement of millions of people got replaced by rewards for economic reform for an excellent reason.

Good speech writing leaves a little something for everyone:
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy, even though this economy could not function without them.
The xenophobes got a shout out, and immigrants got well-deserved credit, too.

Then, reaching into the Clinton SOTU bag, he pulled out the line item veto, and put it into his major annual policy speech, ignoring the fact that Congress passed a line-item veto, and the Courts ruled it unConstitutional. Oh, well.

Proposing another bipartisan commission on retiree entitlements is a better solution that actually proposing a chance, because that's guaranteed to make people unhappy, then you'll have to deal with old people, and they vote.

Now, a lightning round of "fill in the policy proposal":

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through
Is it
  • higher fuel economy standards (the standard liberal plaint)
  • higher gas taxes (the wonkish bitter pill)
  • drilling in your backyard (popular with everyone who isn't you)
  • technology (zero-emission combustion, nuclear power that doesn't produce radioactive waste that lasts millennia, solar energy that's cost-effective, ponies for everyone)
I can't fool you, it's the last one. Pie-in-the-sky technology is always easier than figuring out how to use what we have now.

Let's try again. After a details free proposal on research, and a call for 70,000 new teachers with no discussion of who will pay them, the President explained that

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country.

The answer is not only temporary relief, but
Is it to permanently keep doing what we would have done anyway? Maybe a serious new policy proposal on poverty reduction? Perhaps an outright declaration of a "War on Poverty"! Or a pony for everyone!

If you guessed "keep doing what we have done anyway," you win a cigar. Go to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, to pick it up.

Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in Rabbit SeasoningAnd with another bold swipe at the straw man of isolationism, the President body-surfed out of the House chamber.

At the request of a commenter, here is one human/animal hybrid which the President would forbid our fine researchers from fully understanding through careful observation.

Attention scientists! Gender-bending bunnies romancing horny hunters will not stand in this Brave New America! You've been warned!