Reactions to the State of the Union

Paul Begala, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and others react to the president's address to Congress.

Published January 31, 2002 1:51AM (EST)

Paul Begala, former advisor to President Clinton and author of "Buck Up, Suck Up, and Come Back When You Foul Up."

For the first time in his public life, George W. Bush gave a speech in which expectations were high. He failed to live up to them.

He generally set the right tone on the war. While not up to the boffo performance of Sept. 20, he told us the hard truth about al-Qaida: Despite our victory in Afghanistan, there are tens of thousands of "ticking time bombs" all around the world.

But on the domestic front, Bush didn't look, act or sound like a president with an 82 percent approval rating. He glanced over the deficit, never even mentioned campaign reform and didn't propose anything his father wasn't for back when the old man was at 91 percent.

W. will soon present a budget that will open him up to charges of Enron Economics -- cooking the books, lying about the numbers, rewarding a favored few and screwing all the rest. The fact that he hardly mentioned Enron at all -- and then to hypocritically call for corporate disclosure even as his own White House is covering up important documents sought by Congressional investigators -- tells this old scandal veteran that there's a lot he doesn't want us to know about the Bush-Enron relationship. If only the Democrats have the courage to smoke him out.

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore's presidential campaign

I watched it and thought for a moment that he was a Democrat. After all, it's Dems who favor job creation and economic growth. I was proud of Gephardt. He went one step further -- raise the minimum wage.

Robert Siegel, editor in chief of the Onion

The word is "NUCLEAR," goddammit, not "nucular."

Jim Hightower, former Texas agriculture commissioner and author of "If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates"

Another masterpiece of the ghostwriter's art, using rhetoric and posturing to hide the hard fact that Bush & Company intend to saddle us with an endless world war against anyone they choose to tag as "suspected terrorists."

With a shrill cry of patriotism and a pledge to spend "whatever it takes," George W.'s plan will drain our national treasury, fatten the coffers of weapons-makers, indefinitely defer urgent national needs (from healthcare to basic infrastructure), shred our constitutional rights and weaken both our democracy and our national security.

The orchestrated response of our Congress critters, applauding nonstop, had the same ring of sincerity that we get on sit-com laugh tracks. Of course, there was no mention of campaign-finance reform. And Bush's failure to speak the word "Enron" only underscores his administration's vulnerability to this exploding scandal and his cluelessness about the larger picture of "legalized corruption" that Enron represents.

John H. McWhorter, professor of linguistics at University of California at Berkeley and author of "Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America"

"Let us not become what we deplore," reads a poster taped onto many faculty office doors here at U.C. Berkeley where I teach. In general, the smart set out here is incensed at the anti-terrorist actions President Bush celebrated in his address, and could only see high comedy in Dubya Rex rattling his sabers, ignorant of the festering rot that is America.

Bush said, "We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance." But the left possess a higher truth: These things are indeed negotiable. Islamic societies where women are treated as chattel, free speech is limited to whispers and other religions are treated as heresy are "authentic." Of course, it was "not right" for Osama bin Laden to cremate 3,000 innocents, but ultimately he must be "understood," we had no business eradicating the noble Taliban, and we ought to leave al-Qaida to its plots to kill more Americans. After all, we -- including all the Caribbeans, Asian immigrants, Latinos and black Americans killed on Sept. 11 -- "had it coming," since American imperialism renders non-Westerners incapable of wrong. As for the Afghans rejoicing at the Taliban's defeat, well, it's all so "complex," of course.

Sure, Bush's address had its share of hocus-pocus. Today's Republicans weight paying off the rich over addressing poverty, and no amount of "USA Freedom Corps" and watered-down charity incentives will narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in any serious way. But then what would our wise lefties do if we put them at the wheel? Bush stresses that welfare reform gives people "the dignity of a job," but the brie-and-Zinfandel crowd sees only piteous blacks coerced into making effort in an evil society. But never mind that the same people will make quite sure that their child takes their place in the workforce.

Maybe things aren't so "complex." The Bobos in Paradise smugly dissing "Western" values over dinner at tony restaurants taking calls on their cellphones would not even consider spending a week in the societies they see as so much "realer" than their own. Pretending to deplore a country one would never dream of leaving lends one a cozy sense of higher perception informed by nimble irony. But in times like these, this self-indulgent tic is repulsive. The folks driving to gourmet supermarkets with "I Agree With Barbara Lee" bumperstickers on their Nissan Altimas would have heard Bush's address differently if the Golden Gate Bridge had been blown to bits and half of U.C. Berkeley's campus had been razed flat. Suddenly "understanding" would transform into common sense as they stood sobbing at their spouses' funerals. It's sad that it would take nothing less than that to teach the left coast's gray ponytail crowd that, warts and all, America is worth defending.

Ann Coulter, legal editor of "Human Events" magazine

On the basis of the Bush Democrat-hugging barometer, either President George Bush really is his mother's son or we're about to attack Iraq.

In addition to all the hugging (and who let Jesse Jackson in?), the president ran through a list of programs to perk up the Soccer Moms. At some point he was babbling about a "quality teacher in every classroom." How about the trick light in my apartment? There's something the matter with the wiring, bulbs only last about three weeks. When in God's name will the leader of the free world turn his attention to that?

If this war doesn't remind people that the president -- aka "the commander in chief" -- is not supposed to be piddling around with supremely local issues like public schools, the country is uneducable. As Joe Sobran says, anything that's called a "program" is unconstitutional.

Back to what the president is supposed to be talking about -- protecting the nation from terrorist attacks -- Bush turned to other governments of the world, all of which have turned out to be utterly useless so far. He said, "If they do not act, America will."

That's right. And that's precisely why the president doesn't have time to be mucking around in the hiring of public school teachers. Couldn't the president just concentrate on ensuring that no missiles are dropped on the teachers hired by local governments? Our only hope is that the liberal schlock was intended to blunt a vicious attack on Muslim terrorists somewhere in the world.

On the bright side, at least when Bush talks about God it's not "my God" -- as in "my God has no problem with fellatio in the Oval Office." (Also how it must gall Hillary to have to stand and applaud the memory of a CIA officer!)

Happily, we got through another presidential address to Congress without a plane flying into the building. But it does raise a frightening thought. What if the one Cabinet secretary left behind from the State of the Union address should ever be Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta?

To clarify my point, this is an actual quote from airport security guidelines: "Selection [for closer examination] must not be based solely because a person speaks Arabic, Farsi, or another foreign language, or solely because they speak with an accent that may lead one to believe they are Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and/or Muslim."

Please, God, let us wipe terrorism from the face of the earth before Mineta's turn is up. Not "my God." God.

Salon columnist David Horowitz

President Bush gave two speeches in his State of the Union address last night, which I had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of viewing from the gallery. The first was a war speech, the second a campaign speech. Both were home runs.

The war speech was designed to firm America's resolve. It began with one of the most powerful opening lines ever delivered on these occasions: "As we gather tonight, our Nation is at war, our economy is in recession and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our Union has never been stronger." These were true words, a tribute to the resilience and character of the American people, which had been adrift during the last decade of misleadership by Bush's predecessor. These words were in fact an inspired riff on a former State of the Union speech by our feckless former president whose general inattention and irresponsibility and specific criminal disregard for the security of the American people was a primary factor in the tragedy that occurred on Sept. 11. It was fitting that Clinton -- ever the self-centered narcissist, ever ready to put himself above his country -- gave a speech in Berkeley (a perfect symbolism), once again blaming the American people for the crimes that he and Osama bin Laden committed against them.

In his war speech, Bush put Iraq and other America-hating, terrorist regimes on notice that unless they change their ways, America will deal with them. It was Bush's firmness of purpose and determination to stay the course of the anti-terrorist war that was most evident in his words, which were powerful precisely because this president has shown the American people and the world that he means what he says. This in itself may be the most important shield of safety for America's citizens, just as the lies of his predecessor put every man, woman and child in this country in danger -- every time Bill Clinton moved his wretched lips.

The miserable record of the Democrats on national security -- slash the military budget, cut the intelligence services, put anti-terrorism on low priority (far below covering the presidential ass on Lewinsky), launch missile salvos into Muslim countries with no clear policy or purpose and divide the country by smearing the Republican half as racist and woman-hating anytime you get the chance, and by blaming America first whenever she is attacked -- is why the campaign speech was a national security speech as well.

Here Bush did exactly what he needed to do. He took every inch of ground on which the Democrats will attempt to stand. He committed himself to supporting quality education for American children who need it, especially minority children, to extending unemployment benefits to American workers who have been victimized by the terrorist assault, making stakeholders of minorities and of Social Security recipients, providing healthcare to those who need it, emphasizing conservation of natural resources, but also stressing energy independence as a matter of national security.

George Bush showed Americans -- all Americans -- a big heart and a strong will, the two qualities essential for leading this great country of ours. He will be president for a long time. And every American -- man, woman and child -- can be grateful for that.

By Compiled by Salon staff

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