From the first item of National Review's "The Week" section, 2/13/06:
In Osama's latest tape, he touts an obscure left-wing American book and borrows lines from Michael Moore. We're beginning to think that when we find him, he'll be carrying a Nation tote bag.
Yep, there's no accounting for taste. But when Private Jonah Goldberg enlists for combat and finally nabs Osama, inside that stylish tote bag he'll also find this inspirational quote by none other than National Review patriarch William F. Buckley: "Senator Kerry said, on Sept. 20 , that knowing what we know now, we'd have done better not to have invaded [Iraq]. I think he's right."
The left-liberal blogosphere has been in hyper-drive critiquing Bush's SOTU address since last night. As I'm teaching a class on US empire, I couldn't resist having my students read it. One of our questions: the particular distortions and factual errors of Bush's address aside (see the Institute for Public Accuracy's fisking), how different was his imperial rhetoric from Presidential speeches of yore?
Bush's talk began and ended with references to America's "historic long-term goal," its "destiny" to "seek the end of tyranny in our world." In doing so, Bush followed the long historical arc that begins with Jefferson's memorable characterization of the United States as "an empire for liberty." I won't subject you all to my lecture, but merely point out that President Clinton likewise linked U.S. hegemony with our "timeless" mission to spread freedom in his first inaugural address.
A hard question the left has yet to take up fully is: What came before and what comes after this particularly noxious imperial presidency? As JoAnn Wypijewski points out in her brilliant article for Harper's on torture and the Abu Ghraib trials, so many left-liberals romanticize the U.S. pre-Bush. I think the kicker to her piece is particularly powerful:
We are moved by arguments to assign responsibility up the chain of command; to reaffirm the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare; to establish clear rules in Congress limiting the CIA, foreclosing "black" operations, stipulating the rights and treatment of prisoners; to shut down Guantanamo and the global gulag; to drive Bush and Cheney and their cohort from office; in other words, to set America right again, on course as it was after the Vietnam War, a chastened empire still wielding a fearsome arsenal but with liberal intentions. We have not yet learned to pull up the orchard, to forsake the poisoned ground.
Minutes before the President of the United States would tell the Congress how much he appreciates "responsible criticism and counsel," the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq was dragged from a gallery overlooking the House chamber where Bush would speak, handcuffed and arrested for the "crime" of wearing a T-shirt that read: "2245 Dead. How many more?"
Cindy Sheehan, who had been invited to attend George Bush's State of the Union address by Representative Lynn Woolsey, the California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not put the "dangerous" shirt on for the event. The woman whose protest last summer outside the President's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, drew international attention to the antiwar movement, had been wearing it at events earlier in the day.
Indeed, as Sheehan, who had passed through Capitol security monitors without incident, noted, "I knew that I couldn't disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for her."
Never misunderestimate George W. Bush. Here's a President who's gutted the Treasury, eroded the environment, divided our society, ruined our reputation, frayed our military, undermined our security, inspired our enemies and overall weakened America. But there he stood tonight and delivered a State of the Union speech disconnected from the reality we are living in.
As Tom Engelhardt has observed, the way gunmen once reached for their guns, this Administration reaches for its dictionaries to find words to deceive and distract people.
I know that the long battle to retake our country from the forces of extremism, corruption, mendacity and injustice requires bold ideas and principles. But in the meantime, remember that language is power and clever words sell really rotten policies. Or, as that savvy political philosopher George Carlin once said, "Whenever the other side has you talking their language, they've got you."
So, for all decent and truth-loving Americans, here's a quick guide to decoding last night's SOTU. All of these definitions come from my Dictionary of Republicanisms:
1. When conservative Republicans work with moderate Republicans to pass legislation that Democrats hate.
2. Another name for date rape [Grover Norquist, Third Level, Hell].
Compassionate Conservatism, n.
1. Republican pre-election concern for the disadvantaged [Gary Hunter, Thomasville, NC].
2. (a) I got mine; (b) I got yours too [Brian Kenner, Tervuren, Belgium].
3. Poignant concern for the very wealthy [Laurence Sandek, Twin Peaks, CA].
1. A product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted.
2. When they vote for us; see TYRANNY: When they vote for someone else [Rebecca Solnit, San Francisco, CA].
Ending Tyranny, catchphr.
1. Bombing followed by military occupation [Kerry Jones, Houston, TX].
Energy Independence, n.
1. The Yucca Mountain renovation program [Kimberly Ellenberger, Beloit, WI].
2. The Caribou witness relocation program [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, OH].
1. God-given right of every American to agree with Bush and his policies [Ken Guarino, Miami, FL].
2. What Arabs want but can't achieve on their own without Western military intervention; it bears a striking resemblance to chaos [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].
Free Markets, n.
Halliburton no-bid contracts at taxpayer expense [Sean O'Brian, Chicago, IL].
Frivolous Lawsuits, n.
Those filed against corporations that donate heavily to the GOP [Fred Bonavita, San Antonio, TX].
1. The justification for tax cuts for the rich.
2. What happens to the national debt when Republicans cut taxes on the rich [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].
Health Savings Accounts, n.
1. Another tax shelter for the healthy and the wealthy [Ann Wegher, Montello, WI].
2. Investment capital for banks [Bill DiNome, Wilmington, NC].
Lies told in simple declarative sentences--e.g., "Freedom is on the march." [Katrina vanden Heuvel, New York, NY].
Job Growth, n.
Increased number of jobs an American has to take after losing earlier high-paying job [John E. Tarin, Arlington, VA].
Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, n.
No Drug Company Left Behind [George K. McHugh, Dublin, CA].
No Child Left Behind, riff.
There are always jobs in the military [Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ].
Member of good standing in the Federalist Society [Mark Hatch-Miller, Brooklyn, NY].
Personal Responsibility, n.
1. Poor people trying to support their families on $5.75 an hour.
2. Rich people changing the tax code so their children never have to work [Chelsea Snelgrove, Atlanta, GA].
To end all entitlements [Herbert New, Verona, NJ].
Staying the Course, v.
Saying and doing the same stupid thing over and over, regardless of the result [Suzanne Smith, Ann Arbor, MI].
Support the Military, v.
To praise Bush when he sends our young men and women off to die for a lie without proper body armor [Marc Goldberg, Vancouver, WA].
Tax Reform, n.
The shift of the tax burden from wealth to work [Dan McWilliams, Santa Barbara, CA].
I hope this helps decode Bush's speech.
The truly tragic thing about George W. Bush's fifth State of the Union address was the president's refusal to acknowledge that anyone might remember what was said in his previous speeches to Congress and the nation.
Three years ago, Bush laid out a vision for developing democracy in the Middle East that at least sounded relatively realistic. Echoing statements he had made during the 2000 presidential debate with Al Gore -- when he decried the doomed work of "nation building" -- the president admitted that elections in developing democracies might not turn out the way that his neoconservative "brain trust" had promised they would. And he seemed to be O.K. with that.
"Time after time," Bush warned, "observers have questioned whether this country, or the people, or this group, are 'ready' for democracy -- as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own western standards of progress."
ExxonMobil announced on January 30 that it reaped $36 billion in profits in 2005--the largest annual profit ever by any American corporation. And, as Grist reported in its excellent online newsletter, in related news, the company is still shirking paying the money it owes fishermen and other Alaskans hurt by the Exxon Valdez spill 16 years ago.
Last week, Exxon lawyers asked a federal court to effectively waive $5 billion in punitive damages related to the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, meant to compensate thousands of Alaskans who lost their livelihoods. The company argued that it has already done enough by spending $3 billion on cleanups and settling other lawsuits. Some in the packed courtroom openly laughed as an Exxon lawyer argued that "harm was largely avoided" by what the company has paid so far.
Fortunately, the good folks at ExxposeExxon have given us the opportunity to do much more than laugh at the outrageous behavior of America's largest oil company. Watch EE's new Flash cartoon, a one-minute video showing Exxon toasting the earth in celebration of its record-breaking profits. If you like it, click here to send it around. Then click here to write to Exxon's new CEO, Rex Tillerson, and tell him to put some of his company's enormous profits to good use developing clean, renewable energy, as George W. Bush proposed in his SOTU address.
Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who has died at the age of 78, should be remembered for many brave and selfless deeds. Chief among those deeds, to be sure, was her steady opposition to capital punishment. The widow of one of America's most famous murder victims gave voice across four decades to the most credible argument with regard to the death penalty.
"As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses," she said. "An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder."
State of the Union addresses rarely add anything of value to the national discourse. Rather, they are campaign speeches dressed up as major statements of public policy.
Until the arrival of the current administration, however, State of the Union addresses usually did no harm.
That can no longer be said to be the case. Indeed, during the Bush years, these annual exercises in presidential pontification have actually detracted from the debate -- sometimes devastatingly so.
Check out the spirited dispatch about the last days of the Sundance Film Festival in today's New York Times.
I think our electoral system might take a lesson from how the Festival handled two new documentaries on presidential elections. "An Unreasonable Man," about Ralph Nader, and "An Inconvenient Truth,"which features Al Gore "delivering an alarming presentation on global warming," were both entered. Fortunately, as the Times correspondent observes: "The Gore film was in a different category, so the Nader film, which was in competition, could not steal votes from it."
I'm surprised the shrews at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation haven't come out with a press release denouncing the Screen Actors Guild as anti-gay since at last night's SAG Awards the great gay hope Brokeback Mountain was shut out in all four categories in which it was nominated. Rarely has a film been burdened with such undue political significance. The gay media elite have been beating the drums since the film was in pre-production. The Human Rights Campaign took brown-nosing to new lows when it bestowed an "Equality Award" on Jake Gyllenhaal and Ang Lee for changing "the cultural fabric of our country." Larry King staged a truly idiotic debate between Chad Allen and right-wing radio bimbo Janet Parshall over the merits of Brokeback and, of course, gay marriage. Yes folks, in the Year of the Gays, the little dude from Our House is the only openly gay actor CNN could dredge out of West Hollywood.
Perhaps the only one to demur from commenting on Brokeback is our own cowboy-in-chief who told a Kansas State University audience that he hasn't seen the movie, but he's heard about it and would be "glad to talk about ranching." Maybe Laura will drag him to it one day, but I'm not sure it would do much to change Bush's mind.
I saw the movie at the recommendation of smart, onetime Nation film critic B. Ruby Rich who called it the "most important" American film in years in the London Guardian. While I normally trust Ruby's judgment, what was she thinking on this one? The film is far too pretty, too hygienic, too trite and slender to have the kind of cultural or political impact that's being demanded of it. Sure there's a powerful moment or two, but the whole thing reminded me of a Merchant Ivory chick flick -- so much impossible love, so many precious costumes. In the end, it scarcely seemed to matter that the tortured lovers were both men. Perhaps that's the point: to disappear the particularities of gay sexuality into the Western landscape. But as I looked over at the row of 40-something women weeping next to me, it seemed unlikely that they'd get up tomorrow and urge a filibuster of Alito or campaign against Defense of Marriage Amendments.
For those not tuning out the president's State of the Union speech this Tuesday night in favor of, say, the Knicks/Lakers game, there are myriad protests, panels and parties planned nationwide to mark Bush's address to the nation.
The World Can't Wait coalition is planning to bring the noise nationwide with a cacophony of sound at 9:00pm EST--when the president is scheduled to start speaking. Click here to see what events are planned near you. Meanwhile, the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice is encouraging people to throw houseparties and turn the SOTU into an organizing opportunity. Check out UFPJ's "Parties for Peace Toolkit" for more info.
CodePink will sponsor "People's State of the Union" events across the country. The centerpiece rally, featuring Cindy Sheehan, Ann Wright, Malik Rahim, and many others, will take place at 3:00pm in Washington, DC, at the Mott House, 122 Maryland Avenue, NE.
If you're in Washington, DC on the morning of Tuesday, January 31, you can also see Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in a series of discussions laying out an alternative state of the union featuring innovative progressive policy proposals published in a recent special issue of The Nation. The panels will take place on Tuesday from 9:00 to 11:30am at Democratic National Committee Headquarters, Wasserman Conference Room, 430 S. Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC. Click here for directions and more information.
And that night in DC, join the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Air America's The Majority Report to celebrate the book release of Get This Party Started: How Progressives Can Fight Back and Win. AA's Majority Report will broadcast a live panel before Bush's SOTU and there'll be running riffs during the speech, Mystery Science Theater style. Free food comes out at 7:30! It's happening at the Center for American Progress Action Fund at 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC. Click here to RSVP or call 202-741-6246.
In New York City, people will gather at Times Square at 7:45 for a rally and march being MCed by the Rev. Al Sharpton. In Los Angeles, Bianca Jagger and Gore Vidal will lead the noise making at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, starting at 6:00pm pacific time.
Whatever you do on Tuesday night, remember that friends don't let friends watch George Bush alone.
Why are so many liberal bloggers up in arms about Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine being picked to give the Democrat's reply to Bush's State of the Union? There's been fury in the blogosphere about everything from Kaine's looks, style, obscurity, his open talk about his faith and his inexperience in national security. Liberal writer Ezra Klein (no Brad Pitt, last time I checked him out) vented that Kaine is "a squat, squinty, pug-nosed fellow."
Even the invariably smart and strategic Arianna (Huffington) weighed in: "What the hell are they thinking?" She accused Democrats of picking "someone whose only claim to fame is that he carried a red state" when they need to make the case that "the GOP is not the party that can best keep us safe."
But, let's get real here.