Look out everyone, President Bush is trying to “liberate” things again. As one of the many oddly offensive, barely coherent and blatantly instigative components of his trite, largely rehashed State of the Union address last night, Bush stated that his plan to create the equivalent of Pell Grants for public school students would “help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.” While semantic suicide is nothing new to Bush, many of us hoped that in this speech – his eighth and final State of the Union address – Bush would rise above partisanship and propose more challenging, daring initiatives free of the arrogance that plagued his presidency. As usual, the president failed us.
But at least we naive idealists aren’t alone in feeling the sting of vapid disappointment: Bush proposed almost nothing new, choosing instead to gloat of “victories” past and awkwardly threaten Congress so it carries on his malignant tax cuts, wiretapping and other indiscretions. Regardless of who will give this address next year – be it that stalwart champion of the-long ignored bipartisan majority, Barack Obama or one of the several raving lunatics looking to triple the size of the prison at Guantanamo Bay – we can at least rest assured that no speech could be as offensive to the American constitutional conscience as this 2008 address.
Bush’s first tactic was to treat the American electorate as toddlers with a 10-second attention span and no long-term memory. Does he really think he can slip the Iran must “suspend nuclear enrichment” line by us without us noticing something awry? This is awfully similar to what Bush said about Iraq in past State of the Union addresses. Who can forget the 16 infamous words he uttered five years ago, the lie upon which the invasion of Iraq was justified?
Did Bush really think we wouldn’t notice the same doublespeak packaged with the same aggressive intention as five years ago? Is another unconstitutional, undeclared war in order?
Bush mostly presented more of the same nefarious nonsense on other issues. He talked up his No Child Left Behind Act with the air of a proud father showing off his son’s perfect spelling test at the office the next day – never mind that the kid is a high schooler spelling three-letter words. Actually, that’s more than a parallel; it’s exactly what Bush was doing. He may have boasted that more schools are meeting the marks set by NCLB and more black and Hispanic students are meeting those marks than ever before, What he didn’t say is that those increases can largely be attributed to falling standards and artificially inflated scores, not actual progress.
When he wasn’t insulting our intelligence, the president was busy engaging in constitutional fudging that even he didn’t bother to actually justify. We can all agree that riders tacked on to bills at the last moment before they pass into law are bad for democracy. However, Bush’s solution to this small house fire is to flood the entire city: He promised to sign an Executive Order directing federal agencies to ignore such riders on legislation that has passed into law. What right does a president have to tell federal agencies to ignore the law? Working to change bad laws is our duty as citizens, but encouraging federal agencies to ignore any laws would normally amount to a constitutional offense.
Bush kindly recounted for us the many failures of his disastrous presidency last night, refreshing in our minds the horrendous effects of tax cuts for the wealthy, warrantless wiretaps, counterproductive education reform and unjust wars. As our attention moves from this last declaration of the hapless Bush Manifesto back to the campaign trail, we must remember with renewed passion what is at stake in this election. Anyone who heard last night’s speech knows that there is a whole lot of damage to be undone.