Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Here’s to the State of the Union

By Kat Hyland

I saw some of the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness as they listened to President Bush deliver his latest State of the Union Address. Tearing their way through the halls of college dorms looking for a television screen, students across America gathered to watch the annual spectacle. At a time when many consider the average American to be politically apathetic and uninvolved, you may have gotten the impression that the students were interested in something other than presidential oratory. And you would have been right.

Were these students grieving for their fallen comrades in Iraq and hoping for a new development in U.S. foreign policy? Were Yale students intrigued by social security reform? Were Harvard students curious about cloning? The sad truth is that America’s promising youth were gathered not to listen in rapture to words of wisdom, but to gulp a shot of alcohol every time George Bush said words like “compassion” or “freedom” or “oil.” That some college kids needed to infuse themselves with cheap vodka to sit through the President’s speech speaks volumes about what we as a nation are willing to stomach.

Popularity polls speak volumes as well. At the time of his speech, Gallup polls reported that Bush’s presidential approval rating was at only 46 percent. More dismally, 62 percent disapproved of the ‘State of the Country.’ It almost goes without saying that a sizable number of Americans gathered not to applaud President Bush but to confirm their doubts about his leadership.

What did the President actually say? After his tribute to Coretta Scott King and the inevitable publicity stunt involving the family of a fallen soldier (whose last written words were in support of Bush’s war effort), he launched into what could have been a repeat of his last State of the Union Address. He brought back classic Bushisms such as “spread democracy abroad” and “we are winning Iraq.” After Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran once again received honorable mentions in the next-to-invade list, Bush closed out the foreign policy report with a defense of his plan for warrantless surveillance in order to end terrorism. But since he announced this on an internationally aired program, are people really likely to reveal secret terror plots over the phone and Internet?

Then, on the domestic front, Bush recited a laundry list of policies, many of them designed to fatten the bank accounts of the K Street lobbyists. When the President lacked substantive plans, he simply substituted words like “commission” or “initiative.” Policy proposals ranged from redundant to obscure, for while he created another commission on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and mentioned moving toward energy independence for the sixth year in a row, he also warned America of a dangerous new breed: the human-animal hybrid. Yet as strongly as he denounced cloning and stem cell research, Bush promoted faith-based organizations and funding for HIV/AIDS, so it seems not all worthy causes will go unnoticed in the years to come, except for those that do not survive the discretionary funding budget cuts. And these are, after all, a pittance to pay for a “revolution of conscience.”

In its aftermath, it is no small wonder that America’s young scholars transformed a once-prominent national occasion into a popular drinking game. Sadly, they seem able to predict the words the president will speak and prefer to be intoxicated for their delivery. While this may be a mockery of civic duty, those of us who maintained sobriety for the duration of the speech and came away disappointed may wish that they too had entertained Jack Daniels instead of George Bush.

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