Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Bush & Webb States of the Union

George W. Bush's seventh State of the Union address was interesting.

Watching it, I thought the best thing about it was the beginning and the ending -- his very gracious recognition of Nancy Pelosi as "Madam Speaker", the first woman to hold that position. She seemed genuinely moved at the president's words -- particularly his noting of her father's service in the House. At the conclusion, the gesture to the "everyday Americans" has been a cliche at SOTU addresses for a quarter century now. However, putting all of them together made for a very powerful impact. It was especially nice to see New York "subway superhero" Wesley Autrey spontaneously send out a salute/kiss to Bush and then turn and hug fellow gallery guest Sgt. Tommy Rieman.

But, the rest of the speech didn't move me much.

However, later, actually reading it, I have to give Bush some credit: Putting aside the usual laundry list of domestic initiatives which will be either DOA under a Democratic Congress (the health insurance tax plan) or will be twisted beyond recognition (the renewal of No Child Left Behind). In contrast, the recount of the war on terror -- some of the actual victories combined with an assessment of what is going on in Iraq on both the Sunni and Shiite sides -- was quite refreshing:
Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an Al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terrorist cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an Al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.
It seemed for one of the rare times in the last few years that Bush was actually in command of the details of what is happening in Iraq. That's not the same as being in command of the events on the ground, of course. But unlike his many pedestrian Iraq-focused speeches of recent years, this one seemed more grounded, with little grandiose statements of what would be happening.

It may not change any minds immediately, but, along with new Iraq operations chief Lt. Gen. David Petraeus' testimony at his confirmation hearing, it may presage a period of candor from the administration that might create enough time to get its new Iraq strategy under way.

But is it too late?

Listening to Jim Webb (launch the video player), it was perfectly clear why the Democrats chose him to deliver the Democratic response (again, this sounds like it had Chuck Schumer's fingerprints all over it). As a number pundits mentioned afterwards, he tore up the original speech that the Democrats wanted him to deliver and wrote his own: Very good idea. It was personal, philosophical and political. He mixed in a photo of his Dad serving in World War II and made a generational connection to his own service and that of his currently serving son:
I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues ­ those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death ­ we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us ­ sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

He then followed that up with a list of all the strategic and tactical errors the administration has made on Iraq. Unlike the average Democrat who might have given this speech, there wasn't the usual cant. There weren't the typical histrionics. His tone was straightforward, yet forceful. Confident without being arrogant.

It was a speech that would appeal to men and women equally.

Jim Webb can sure make a persuasive case for the need to address economic disparity. Republicans might call it "class warfare," but a man like Webb can inspire more people than you might think to enlist on the side of the workers rather than on the side of the CEOs. Hmmm... wonder how John McCain felt to hear Webb swipe Teddy Roosevelt as an example of a president who saw the need to address economic inequality?

Whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is, that person would be a fool not to ask Jim Webb to their running mate.

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