Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smirk of the Union

By Rick Perlstein, TomPaine.com
Posted on January 29, 2008, Printed on January 29, 2008

A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero. Snoopy battling the Red Baron. Walter Mitty, imagining himself dying bravely before a firing squad.

For those who missed it, here's the Big Con run-down. Let me start with the facial expressions. Because, more than any of the words, they told the sad story.

The entrance: He raises both eyebrows puckishly, like the frat boy he is. Introduced by Speaker Pelosi, he reacts curiously to the wave of applause: he blushes. He actually thinks this applause is for him--they love me!!--and not a perfunctory gesture of respect for the office. He still thinks he is a great man, and that others think he is a great man. He looks about a thousand years old. He begins: "Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum." Or that's what the transcript says he said. If you missed it live, what he actually said was, "...stood before yuh at this rostr'm...."

John Wayne taking on the desperadoes.

Then, the arrogant bastard, he makes a joke: "These issues"--he's named "peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens"--"deserve vigorous debate. And I think history will show we've answered the call." He gives the chamber that famous smirk, to let them know it's OK to laugh, even amid all the pomp: get it? These people keep insisting on debatin' with me. Washington! Bicker, bicker, bicker.

Then, he obliquely announces the speech's theme, also with a smirk: Bush's greatest hits. A golden trip down memory lane. He says, of public servants' job to "carry out the people's business," that "it remains our charge to keep." Dog whistle: this is the Methodist hymn that by which entitled his campaign book. Because remember: George Bush is a Christian Unleashing the "armies of compassion." Or it it this "army of compassion"?

Which brings up one of the creepiest features of the speech: "more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities." I didn't know--and perhaps the Constitution has something to say on this--it was the job of the U.S. government to fret over the disappearance of "faith-based" institutions. Well, our president now proposes we shore them up with "Pell Grants for Kids." Senator Clayborn Pell, a great man, now unfortunately suffers from Parkinson's disease, and probably lacks the wherewithal to slap the president in the face for the insult to his great progressive legacy.

I suppose we should also attend to the words, because this pathetic washout happens to be the most powerful man in the world, so the words he uses are important.

He repeated the Great Republican Lie of 2007, implying that the Democrats in the 110th Congress is obstructionist--"Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time," he piously intoned.--when it's really himself and the Republican minority who are willfully obstructing, with an aggressiveness unmatched in modern history. He still trumpets his own disastrous Ownership Society rhetoric (How disastrous? See here) and barely acknowledges the massive economic pain Americans are feeling and our about to feel -- and only then to issue one more obstructionist threat, on the stimulus package: "The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it." Mafia words: my way, or else.

But back, again, to the facial expressions. The most fulsome smirk came, I think, winding up to his promise, "If any bill raising taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it." He said something interesting, perhaps referring to the remarkable poll results consistently showing a majority of Americans believe Bush's tax cuts were not worth it, or that they would be glad to pay higher taxes if it meant healthcare for all Americans. Such national maturity--indeed any occasion to call Americans to some higher sacrifice--can only but be mocked by the smug bastard running our country. He said this: "Others have said they'd be happier to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. The IRS accepts both checks and money owners."

Cheney joins his smirk.

What else? There was his promise of an executive order canceling earmarks not voted out in the open--because, of course, now that the Democrats run Congress, procedural irregularity and pork-barrel spending has suddenly become a national crisis.

There was some fairy dust about making "health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control." The Republicans' barks of approval at that one are guttural. He add that medical decisions must be "made in the privacy of your doctor's office, not in the halls of Congress."

About medical decisions made in callous insurance company cubicles, of course--which is to say, most medical decisions--he has nothing to say.

"Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results." No one can deny they suck. Read this.

"To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow"? Only if those breakthroughs accord with conservative dogma. Read this.

Perhaps later, I'll give you more on the fairy tales he's propounding our nation on its place in the world. I'll leave you with this one peace of jargon: "protective overwatch mission." That's the new Bushism for "We're staying in Iraq for ever." You'll be hearing it much more in the days ahead.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/75340/


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