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 liberalismâ€”with personal touchesâ€”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.
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 â€œicâ€ from the word â€œDemocraticâ€ may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase â€œthe Democrat Partyâ€ 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. Bushâ€™s seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with â€œbold and innovative concepts.â€ The problem with that was obvious last night â€” 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. Bushâ€™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 heâ€™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 donâ€™t have health insurance. What he offered, by the White Houseâ€™s own estimate, would take a few million off that scandalously high number and shift the burden to the states. Mr. Bushâ€™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.
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.