About Last Night

Jonathan Alter is impressed. The speech was powerful, he says. It was tough minded. The speaker has a sense of narrative and drama. Yes, Jim Webb did a great job. Bush, not so much.

Something unprecedented happened tonight, beyond the doorkeeper announcing, “Madame Speaker.” For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president’s big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism—with personal touches—that left President Bush’s ordinary address in the dust.

Alter actually speculated about a place for Webb on the 2008 ticket. Webb is said to be a bad campaigner, but I have to admit it’s a tempting idea.

Webb was given a speech to read by the Democratic leadership. He threw it out and wrote his own.

Good man.

Webb is seen as a moderate or even conservative Democrat, but this was a populist speech that quoted Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and champion of the common man. The speech represented a return to the tough-minded liberalism of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey, but by quoting Republicans Teddy Roosevelt (on “improper corporate influence”) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (on ending the Korean War), he reinforced the argument that President Bush had taken the GOP away from its roots.

And I think Webb could help take the Democratic Party back to its liberal roots. It’s way past time to remind people that conservatism and liberalism are not defined by laundry lists of issues, like being for or against raising taxes or legal abortion. These words are defined by what you think government is for, and how you think a people and their government relate to each other. But that’ll have to be another post.

If you missed Webb’s speech, you can watch the video here or read the transcript here.

The consensus on the SOTU itself was that it was tepid and far from the barn-burner Bush needed to deliver to revive his presidency. For detailed analysis of the President’s “proposals,” see the Drum Major Institute.

At The Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelley brings up something I missed — that at one point Bush dropped the “ic” from “Democratic.”

Dropping the “ic” from the word “Democratic” may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase “the Democrat Party” for months as a way of needling his opponents. … Such a little, little man. So unable to rise above his small mindedness.

See also Media Matters.

At Sisyphus Shrugged, Julia pounces on the proposal to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Meet David Koch. Mr. Koch is a Bush pioneer, a huge Republican donor, and a founder, funder and board member of the Cato Institute.

Mr. Koch has the contract to fill the SPR on a cost-plus basis. The price you pay for heating oil and at the pump would be based on competition between you and Mr. Koch for the available oil.

Think about it.

Steven Thomma writes at McClatchy Newspapers about Bush and “bipartisanship”:

George Bush tried to go home Tuesday night.

His goal was what he thought he left behind in Texas when he was a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. But the mythical bipartisan place he tried to reach out to in his State of the Union address Tuesday was never like the one he romanticized in Texas. It’s not what he’s built in six years in Washington. And today it’s as elusive as Oz. …

… the chasm between the parties is wide and deep, the politics between them are poisonous and Bush bears much of the blame.

After reaching out to Democrats his first year, Bush governed after the 2001 terrorist attacks as the leader of a one-party state.

In Congress, his party locked Democrats out of negotiations, then hammered votes through without chance of input.

From the White House, Bush tacked “signing statements” onto bills he signed and used the threat of terrorism in three successive elections to attack Democrats as weak or, worse, aiding the enemy. Last fall he warned that if the Democrats won control of Congress, “terrorists win and America loses.”

That makes it hard for Democrats to take his olive branch Tuesday without looking for thorns.

Then Thomma mentions the real speech.

The Democrats signaled in response that they’re not in the mood for compromise either – on Iraq or at home. They want Bush to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and shift the government away from the wealthy and toward the poor.

“If he does, we will join him,” said Sen. James Webb. D-Va., who gave his party’s formal response to Bush’s speech. “If he does not, we will be showing him the way.”

Webb’s da man.

The New York Times‘s editorial on the SOTU also points to Bush’s phony “bipartisanship.”

The White House spin ahead of George W. Bush’s seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with “bold and innovative concepts.” The problem with that was obvious last night — in six years, Mr. Bush has shown no interest in bipartisanship, and his domestic agenda was set years ago, with huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans and crippling debt for the country. …

… When Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Mr. Bush’s only real interest was in making their majority permanent; consultation meant telling the Democrats what he had decided. …

…Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Mr. Bush is acting as if he’d had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it.

The Times editorial also explains Bush’s health care proposal succinctly:

Last night, Mr. Bush also acted as if he were really doing something to help the 47 million people in this country who don’t have health insurance. What he offered, by the White House’s own estimate, would take a few million off that scandalously high number and shift the burden to the states. Mr. Bush’s plan would put a new tax on Americans who were lucky enough to still have good health-care coverage through their employers. Some large portion of those are middle class and represented by the labor unions that Mr. Bush and the Republicans are dedicated to destroying.

At WaPo, Ruth Marcus accuses Dems of “knee-jerk opposition.

Listening to Democratic reaction to Bush’s new health insurance proposal, you get the sense that if Bush picked a plank right out of the Democratic platform — if he introduced Hillarycare itself — and stuck it in his State of the Union address, Democrats would churn out press releases denouncing it.

She admits that the Dems’ antipathy to Bush is largely of Bush’s making, but she actually thinks that Bush’s “health care plan” is reasonable, which is proof she’s an idiot. Even Kevin Drum recognizes it’s a dumb plan.

You know a Bush SOTU has failed when the righties are downplaying SOTUs generally as non-events.

Again, for fact-checking and detailed analysis of the SOTU, see the Drum Major Institute. And here are links to more analyses:

Fred Kaplan, Slate: Bush still doesn’t understand the war

Gerard Baker, Times (UK): Analysis: Bush tries to be a uniter, not a divider

John Dickerson, Slate: Lame Duck Soup

Joshua Holland, AlterNet: Nixon would have been proud

Walter Shapiro, Salon: Two long years to go.

21 thoughts on “About Last Night

  1. We’ve moved recently, to a slightly smaller house, and in the unpacking process I came across the following:

    St Louis Post-Dispatch dated Sunday, July 23, 1995 a short piece by Ed Higgins titled “Editorial View: Always Need For Liberal Views.” (Mr. Higgins was the editor of the Post-Dispatch editorial page and he was asked “whether his staff members still consider themselves liberals.”

    Mr. Higgins responded, “Fashion not withstanding, the Post-Dispatch editorial page remains resolutely liberal, which is to say that we continue to believe in the perfectibility of man, in basic human rights and in using government to promote political equality, economic opportunity and social justice.’

    “Though we do not change our basic principles with changing times, we do re-evaluate our positions to determine whether the initiatives were appropriate under one set of political and economic conditions are appropriate under another. For example, breathtaking changes in telecommunications mean there is less need for the strict industry regulation we supported in the past.”

    “Liberalism has done a great deal for this country: Social Security, wage-and-hour laws, broadening of political rights, environmental safeguards and protections for civil liberties. And, in my opinion, were it not for liberalism, ours would be a less compassionate and less tolerant society.”

    “Times may have changed and liberalism may be out of favor at the moment, but there will always be a need for the values it embodies; sooner or later people will again embrace a liberal outlook.”

  2. And yet, Jim Webb served in the Reagan administration! Which makes me think my awe at his speech last night is just one more sign of the apocalypse.

    Was it just me, or did Bush’s ‘splanation of the health-insurance tax-break thingie make no sense? I thought that even Nancy had a fleeting expression (of puzzlement) during that particularly babblesome paragraph. That babbling seems a sure sign of smoke-and-mirrors for taxpayers.

  3. Maha-

    Since you were live-blogging, you were probably working with the transcript as you watched the speech. You probably didn’t notice the missing “ic” in Democratic because the official transcript included it. Bush did that little bit all on his own. What a guy.

    I’ve been noticing many members of the Republic party do this for some time. Mr Boner did it at the opening of congress too. I think there’s a trend in the Republic party to do this. Perhaps you’ve noticed other prominent members of the Republic party doing this too.

    Hmm. Such a lot of fuss over a single syllable…

  4. So far I haven’t seen any pundit or journalist who support bush’s health coverage proposals mention their own health insurance plans.

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  6. I hope Mr.Webb and the Senate “will be showing him the way” to the door.

    I went out to pick up the Thai food at 9, so I had the pleasure of missing the speech. There was an exchange between Cheney and Pelosi before the speech that unfortunately I didn’t record. She tapped the gavel, and Dick muttered “what was that for?”. There was a terse exchange between them which I guess is lost to history. C-Span rules.

    I guess I ws right about Mr. Webb’s speech (see SOTU PReview (1/20, Comment #25).

  7. “Webb is said to be a bad campaigner.”

    I’ve heard this many times. I think the reason people say this is that we’ve all come to accept a warped definition of what it means to be a “good campaigner.” As a result of years of conditioning, we’ve come to believe that a “good campaigner” is someone who enjoys backslapping, gladhanding, and pandering while wearing a smiling, highly-polished, consultant-approved, non-threatening plastic facade. Jim Webb is not that kind of campaigner.

    Jim Webb campaigns as an authentic, forceful, intelligent, and serious human being, with the courage to look others in the eye and say what needs to be said. The reaction he most often provokes is: “My God, an honest politician with both a brain and a backbone. Imagine that!”

    Perhaps the Webb approach should become our new definition of what constitutes a “good campaigner.” In any case, I’d prefer to keep him in the Senate. First, because I think he can do the country a great deal of good as a Senator and he’s only just started his work there. Second, because I want to be able to keep him as my Senator so I can continue to tell people that, for the first time in my life, I have someone I can be proud to call my United States Senator.

  8. A couple of things:

    First, I must disclose I did not watch the speech.THAT man is NOT allowed into my home.NO exceptions.I did , however, read the speech and I watched the “after coverage” on MSNBC.

    About the health care”plan”, perhaps I have missed something but if bush is saying you will be able to deduct the cost of your insurance from your income tax at the end of the year I want to ask”what the hell is new?”
    The family accountant has done our taxes for the past 6 years and what you pay for insurance is already deductible…I just dug up the figures for tax time this past week at my accountants request…..So what the hell?….

    And about Webb…first let me say I watched his response and I was so bleeping over come with pride….I don’t want to comment about what he said, but instead about the look in his eyes as he said it.If you have the time to re- watch his speech – do!- and notice the look in his eyes when he speaks about his son.The look in his eyes could have knocked a man to his knees.There was anger and I flat out took the look in his eyes to be a warning from a father to a president…he was NOT bleeping around.I recalled the words the president and Webb had about Webb’s son a month or so ago and I knew in a minute where the look on Webb’s face stemmed from.

    And my final comment(I promise) is about Joe scarbough’s take on the bush speech.Joe LOVED it….thought bush hit a homerun!Is the man smoking crack or is he just that worried about the intern who ended up dead in his office all those years ago?…Oberman and Matthews could be heard giggling in the back round as Joe delivered his prepared remarks about how great the speech was.As Joe read his remarks from the paper I wondered if dick cheney wrote them and like scooter libby , joe would be forced to destroy the notes after delivering them to the public…One could almost imagine joe wadding up the paper and sticking it in his mouth…..

  9. Hang on to your wallets! Whenever any sitting politician, dem or rep, talks about doing something by way of taxes, you’ll lose – unless you live in the stratosphere of the super rich.

    From 1977 to 1992 if Congress had done nothing to alter the US tax code, passed no new legislation at all, nine out of ten American families would be paying less – a smaller share of their incomes would be devoted to federal taxes.

    The tax burden on the richest one percent, however, fell cumulatively by 36 percent. Families in the very middle of the income tax ladder experienced a 7 percent increase in their fed tax burden – and this occurred while politicians were “cutting” taxes right and left, or so they would have you believe.

    Bush/healthcare costs/taxes means we lose in the end. It’s on record.

  10. Hats off to those of you who were able to sit through the speech.
    I opted for renting a movie so as to reduce the chance of seeing him while surfing. My stomach isn’t that strong.

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  12. It’s a very good sign that Webb was even chosen to give the rebuttal – our party is starting to hit some of the right notes. I wonder how many people stuck around to hear and see him. He’s terrific, the kind of authenticity and gravitas we need.

  13. About the health care”plan”, perhaps I have missed something but if bush is saying you will be able to deduct the cost of your insurance from your income tax at the end of the year I want to ask”what the hell is new?”

    I don’t think Bush knows what he means. The plan as I understand it creates a standard deduction for everyone who gets employer-based health insurance. So if you pay less for your health insurance than the standard deducion you come out ahead, and if you pay more you lose. The idea is to “incentivize” people to get lower-cost health insurance.

  14. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16789806/site/newsweek/

    Here’s an interesting article… From none other than the master who brought us…cut and run, freedoms on the march, axis of evil, when they stand up,we’ll stand down..and hundreds of other catchy little deceptions. I know we’re supposed to avoid cliches to achieve good writing, but he sounds like sour grapes.

  15. Senator Jim Webb was nothing less than presidential in his rebuttal of the President’s SOTU address. He was absolutely magnificent.

  16. I don’t much care for the subtle meaning of ‘muscular’ liberalism. Yes, I like Webb’s attitude, delivery, etc, but it’s not about muscle or testosterone. It’s about heart.

    And I know many people with smaller voices, shorter stature, less muscular physiques, who are every bit as smart, principled and filled with similar heart who stand for liberalism without retreat. They rarely get a chance at the pulpit and are oft overlooked by the media and pols, but they’re every bit the worth of Webb to progressivism and the advance of humane beings.

    Webb’s a good role model for wishy-washy pols, but he’ll have some catching up to do with many longstanding liberals.

    Beyond that one point, I think you got it all covered perfectly.

  17. I never listened to an opposition rebuttal to a SOTU address until this year, but I’m glad I did this time. Whoever picked Webb to give the speech (Nancy Pelosi?) is crazy like a fox. This is the same Webb who stood up to the White House bully when asked, “How’s your boy?”

    Yes, I heard “the Democrat majority.” “Democrat” as an adjective has become so universal among Republicans (Republans?) that even Christie Whitman used it when she was on “Fresh Air.” I’ve also heard it in Australian newscasts, but I give foreigners the benefit of the doubt.

  18. A friend of mine at work asked me what I thought of the speech this morning. (He knows I would watch it and have an opinion.)
    My reply “Let’s be bipartisan; do it my way.”

    The one point where Bush and the Democrats agree is legalizing12 million or so illegals. Bush is looking out for big business who wants a pool of cheap labor to keep wages down. The Democrats are salivating about all those poor exploited workers who can be registered Democrats.Neither Bush or the Democrats are looking out for the national interest.

    By the time ’08 rolls around, Iraq will be winding down. The Republicans who are up for reelection know where the polls are headed. Republicans may be smart enough to make Immigration THE issue of the ’08 election if Democrats are stupid enough to pass legislation which is offensive to the Independents who were the swing vote in the last election.

  19. Oh, come on now, let’s not throw a hissy fit every time a member of the People’s Republic Party drops that syllable.

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