Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union, Schmate of the Union

This may be heresy for a political blogger, but I'm going to come right out and say it: I hate State of the Union speeches.

Except for the first one of each term, they rarely contain anything of monumental importance. People look at them as a description of the president's priorities -- but if they were actual priorities he would have gotten around to implementing them sometime before the seventh year of his administration.

And this SOTU speech will be even less relevant than most, coming as it does from a deeply unpopular President facing an opposition-controlled Congress, a President whose explosive borrowing and staggering spending leave little room for ambitious new initiatives, even if he had the political capital to push them.

Further, with just two years left in office, most of the things Bush will push for will have to be accomplished by his successors. Take his ethanol proposal, for example: he says we should seek to produce 35 billion gallons a year by 2017. What will or can he do to achieve that? Nothing, beyond tax breaks. It's classic bully pulpit, urging people to go do something. It's a laudable goal, but as a practical matter it's just words: cheap, easy, and meaningless.

So the speech will be interesting as a snapshot of how he will deal with the new political reality, and how he hopes to shape his legacy. But as a policy blueprint it's garbage.

So watch it, if you want. I've got it on right now in the background. So far the best thing about it is the look on Dick Cheney's face as he sits behind the president and next to Nancy Pelosi. He looks more bored than she does.

But recognize that the speech is more theatre than substance -- especially this one.

Update: Here's the speech, and here's the fact sheet that goes with it.

Update II: Here's the text of the Democratic rebuttal, delivered by Sen. Jim Webb. It's remarkably succinct and sharp, even if you don't agree with the sentiments expressed.

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