We must “stand behind the American military,” George W. Bush declared in his dispirited State of the Union address. And so he did, wrapping himself in their courage and sacrifice to cover his follies and fantasies. The speech was a far remove from reality, but how could it be otherwise? Bush’s catastrophic policies have laid waste the nation. Even a glancing proximity to truth would have been a telling self-indictment.

Bush said “we are winning” in Iraq with a “plan for victory.” In fact, the Administration’s corrupt and incompetent reconstruction plan has run out of money, and the Army has been stretched to the breaking point. Bush warned of an Iran “held hostage by a small clerical elite” but didn’t bother to mention its mutual defense pact with the Shiite leaders who will dominate Iraq. Bush’s trillion-dollar war of choice has strengthened that “axis” and is the gift that keeps on giving–to Islamic extremists.

The President lauded our democratic values; indeed, he’s so determined to export them to the Middle East that the domestic supply seems to be depleted. In the same chamber where Bush paid tribute to civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, was tossed out simply for wearing a T-shirt that showed the number of dead American soldiers. Bush said our “economy is healthy” and that tax cuts have generated millions of jobs. In fact, he has the worst jobs record of any Administration since the Depression, and his tax cuts have created staggering deficits but not jobs.

Bush’s aides thought it wise for him to look more in touch with a worried population, so he addressed kitchen-table issues like healthcare, education and gas prices. But here, fatigue suppressed imagination. In a country with 45 million uninsured, Bush thinks we have too much insurance, so he offered to privatize healthcare, just as he sought to do with Social Security. That won’t help the sick, the uninsured, those struggling with soaring costs. Education was presented as the answer to the loss of good jobs with benefits. More math and science teachers are a good thing, but Bush couldn’t mention that he hasn’t funded his own programs and is cutting education spending

The President from Big Oil discovered that we are addicted to oil, but he remains in denial about global warming. Instead of committing to a bold strategy to wean America from dependence on foreign oil, like that of the Apollo Alliance, Bush offered a few scant programs. Exxon announced the highest profits on record, but Bush didn’t call for rolling back the billions in subsidies his party lavished on oil companies last year.

Bush made it clear what his party’s strategy will be for the fall. The GOP will run the empire against the Republic.

The President lied us into Iraq, but hindsight is not a policy, he says–you must choose either duty and victory or retreat and “defeatism.” He tramples the law to spy on Americans? Choose between an imperial President and a vulnerable country.

This may be the only hand the Republicans can play: Hide behind the troops and paint Democrats as weak. In fact, the Democrats offered a comprehensive response–not the official one of Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine but that of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at an event hosted by The Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies. The CPC’s strategy includes a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, universal healthcare coverage, public financing of political campaigns and a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This country needs such a thoroughgoing program to recover from the damage wrought by this imperial President.