State of the Union Speech
So I'm watching this thing out of the sheer entertainment value I get from listening to a man who has, somehow, beyond all the powers and rules that are there to ensure that people like him don't get where he's gotten - talk. Of course he didn't write it, and this makes it even more entertaining. A puppet is standing behind the podium, reading (yes, reading) another person's words. How much more on target, symbolically and ironically, can you get?
As he's introduced and the place stands and cheers for the first of 38 times during his speech, the camera pans to Laura Bush, his wife. She's staring down at her husband in what was supposed to be a scene of pride and joy for the man she is married to. Instead, what we see is a grinchian (my term, no relation to anything of David Lynch's) smile and eyes that are just beaming - but sending the wrong message.
Instead of "I'm so proud for George", I got a "Yesss, we have to have it, we already have it and we wants it again. Our preciousss..." Overcoming my fear, I continued to watch, hoping Mrs. Bush would simply - well - disappear.
Bush begins his speech and quickly gets to the rhetorical bullshit that is the meat of most political speech. Or more precisely, a speech given by a politician. My eternal optimism's hope is dashed once more, as that tiny part of me that continues to believe politicians will one day be straightforward, direct, and read, receives another blow. I was quickly rescued from my disappointment when the camera panned to Senator Kennedy. A large, old, gray-haired democrat who obviously is in great disagreement with Bush. What filled my soul with delight was the face he was making, because it was the exact same face I would have made if I were sitting there, listening to the speech in person. The facial expressions and physical manerisms aren't nearly as important as what they were saying; which, at its very essence was "Oh come on! Let's cut the crap!" Think of yourself as a creationist trying to explain how dinosaurs fit into your belief scheme to a rational person. This is the face you would be confronted with.
So Bush goes on; undaunted by one democrat's reaction to his speech. The trooper that he is. A true American. Eventually, as was expected, he gets into his terrorism bit. At one point he lists off different places that terrorists have struck since 9-11: Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, and so on. His next sentence sums up his argument by stating that terrorists continue to target the US. He continues reading his speech, but I got stuck there for a minute. What state is Jakarta in? Bali? Hmm, my geography is usually pretty good, but my memory is not. Later on he would proclaim a kind of temporary victory against terrorism by stating that there have been no new attacks in the US since 9-11. Cheer and applause. I think the democrats, by default, have to applaud some things, and this seems to be one of them. So no new attacks in the US is a good thing. But terrorism has still struck the US, just not in the US. So only Jakarta, Casablanca, and so on are getting attacked now. Applause?
As I counted how many times Bush's speech was interrupted by a standing ovation (38 as I mentioned earlier), I noticed that even that part was written into his speech. The louder his voice went at the end of the sentence, the more sustained the applause. Imagine fooling with the teleprompter, "My two daughters are drunk (pause) AND stoned RIGHT NOW!" Standing ovation, even from the democrats.
It would be like a college party. You say dumb shit and, the dumber it is, the more "da man" you are. Nothing was being left to chance, especially not the crowd reaction. We all know how important that is on the overall effect of the TV viewer - think of the laugh tracks that remain to this day.
He talks about the Patriot Act, and how certain provisions are about to expire. Lowered, bass-like jeering from the right side of the chamber. Unscripted mayhem! Bush is only slightly flustered, and continues to read. The prepared speech seems to have been prepared for this turn of events, or at least left room for it (these aren't dumb people, no siree, not behind the president). The next line is something like "we cannot and will not let it expire (the patriot act provisions)." What irks me is that he turns towards the jeering/democrat section and says it as if he's scolding them. Like he came up with it on the fly. Boom - standing ovation number seven.
I love keeping count of things, so I'll share another count I kept track of: the number of times the President of the United States said nukular, twice. Oddly enough, I did not notice one single appearance of the other nukular, the word nuclear. At least he can probably spell it correctly (no phantom "e" attached at the end or anything like that).
Vice president Cheney sits behind and to the left of the president in the frame of the camera. Occasionally the camera pans in on him, sometimes he pops into the main shot as he shifts from one elbow to the other. He looks bored, in stasis. The way people look when they've gone over something hundreds of times and are forced to go through it once more. It's like a vegetable has been planted back there and someone dressed it up as a vice president. He wants his paycheck and he wants to go back to whatever he does in that secret cave he's always in (hmm, a US leader also hides out in a cave, not so different after all). There is one point where I could have sworn I saw a sudden movement coming from the vice president, a real sign of life. It was so sudden and violent after the complete stillness he was in that it looked dangerous, like he might hurt himself.
As Bush touched upon the topic of corporate fraud, Cheney was partially in the shot, his left shoulder was anyway. But as soon as "corporate scandal" was uttered he shifted immediately until he was out of view. Now that I think about it, it was the actual camera that shifted right, not Cheney. I don't know if the vice president is left handed or if that left shoulder had anything to do with signing fraudulent "overseas" Halliburton deals - but someone sure as hell made sure that left shoulder was not visible to the American public when "corporate scandals" came up. Or maybe it was just me. But don't forget, nothing is left to chance during the preparation for these things. If I saw it, maybe others did too. I just hope the producer wasn't taken outside and shot over the screw-up.
As Bush continues touting how great the US is and all the magnificent things his administration has done and all this superlativism, I'm suddenly confronted with a parallel of emotions I've had somewhere else before. I'm a big fan of ego-busting; that is when someone's ego is artificially inflated to an annoying size - and then someone or some event pops it back down to reality. Maybe it's jealousy, but I enjoy watching witnessing it. That's why I enjoy watching boxing so much. Especially those pre-fight interviews at the weigh-in. My god those are fun to watch, because no matter the odds or differences of talent, no matter how much one guy is going to get his brains turned into mush by the other guy - they both still know they will win.
"I am a superior fighter"
"I will knowck hom to the ground in the first round"
"I will force him into retirement"
They both say these overly arrogant, cocky things that everyone knows will eventually be very embarassing to one of the fighters once the fight is over. This is the emotion I feel as I hear Bush speak. So many superlatives and rhetorical comments that you just beg for a chance to ask him - right then and there, unscripted - to prove it. Because you know he can't, it's impossible. It's a political speech. But I also knew no one was going to knock him out, not just yet, and that kind of disappointed me.
But and so the rhetoric continues, and that's when I experienced one of those "did you hear that?" moments where you look around to verify confirmation from someone else that he did indeed say what I think he did. He said that his government is commited to keeping the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous nations. Basically what this means is that only the almighty, god-fearing, "good" US of A can have them. Isn't invading a country under false pretense kind of wrong, morally? Let alone legally and internationally speaking. Then again, Bush will go on to say later on that "America will never seek a permission slip to ensure the security of our country." I picture Saddam Hussein telling this to his people on Iraqi TV, Osama in one of his videotapes. I can actually see the three men uttering the same, identical phrase. But only Bush is "right" amongst them. Isn't the "permission slip" idea the whole foundation of the UN, international law, and law in general? To prevent anarchy?
Permission to go into Afghanistan would've been given unanimously. No doubt. The US was after the guy that bombed them. Here is your slip. Iraq is what created the controversy here. Bush claims that "WMD-related-activities programs" have been found. His facial expression is saying "WMDs, duh, it was obvious, we knew it all along, didn't I already tell you this before?" I assume "WMD-related-activities-programs" doesn't mean what they want it to mean or else I would've seen it in big bold letters on FOX News: "WMD FOUND!"
"For all those that love peace and freedom, the world is better without Saddam."
Probably a solid, factual statement. Not sure too many people would doubt it. But why not just say it from the start instead of making up WMD-related-activities reasons? Because it reeks of imperialist goals.
"Aw heck we're over there - close by already - let's take this bad guy out. An excuse? I'm the president god damn it! Fine, show the planes crashing on TV over and over and then show Saddam's ugly face."
I always waited, ever since 9-11, for the president to go on TV and tell the people of the USA how they could do their part to fight terrorism (see Bill Maher's book). I had flashbacks of depression stories I had read. I kept waiting for him to ask us to use less gasoline, to carpool, to push for qualified security personnel at airports - even if it had to be paid for with taxes. The closest Bush got to this was to tell people to go about their everyday lives, to go shopping, and to keep an eye out. It's a perfect example of how to win over a people. Mess with everything, no matter how negative the results are, as long as the masses aren't directly affected in their everyday, lazy, commercial lives.
Towards the end, Bush reads a letter from a 10-year-old girl asking him what she can do to help. I was glued to the set thinking he wouldn't give a straight answer, not even to an innocent 10-year-old. But he did: study hard, help someone in need, listen to mom and dad, and say thank you to anyone wearing a uniform. It sounds like good, solid, candy coated advice - I mean at least for a ten-year-old. But this is what he is doing so society will be "with us" come election time: Don't piss them off and don't ask for too much from them. I think I know part of his answer lies in his mentioning of the men in uniform: say thank you. And really, we all should. But it should be "thank you and sorry." Because they are really the only people making sacrifices in our place. They are doing all the work while everyone else sticks flags on their cars and talks about "supporting our troops." It's easy to support our troops when all you have to do is say "I support our troops."
Religion is at the core of the dispute here, yet it isn't discussed often enough because of how delicate a subject it is. Bush is, admittedly, a very religious man. He invokes the name of god every chance he gets, I assume it's not just to win over the masses - I'm not that cynical. But religion is the whole reason 9-11 happened. Not the Islamic religion or the Catholic religion, nor the differences between the two. Just religion in general. Bin Laden wanted the US military out of his religion's holy cities. When someone you hate is in your holy cities with no real good reason, and are profitting from the oil in that country - it's going to ruffle some feathers. Repeatedly, he asked them to leave. They didn't, he bombs NY and the pentagon with US airplanes. So let's not leave religion out of the discussion, OK Mr. Bush? And so he brings it up twice in his speech.
First, he tells us that he doesn't believe - that he refuses to believe - that freedom is incompatible with religion. The problem with this statement (besides being historically innacurate) is that it depends on what your definition is of freedom and of incompatible (that was not a jab at Clinton, by the way). Is freedom a spiritual state of being or is it the ability to watch TV all day, work in a job you hate, and not stir up too much trouble? You see, it's all relative. But anyway, it's still just flat out wrong because religion does restrict freedom, it's one of it's basic characteristics. Bush seems to define freedom as everything you can do in the US but not under the Taliban. It's a statement uttered solely for this particular, specific, instance. Which makes it even more wrong. He says all these incorrect, false things, but his aura of president and his tone of voice masks it, leaving your typical american chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" waving those god damned mini-flags all over the place.
The second time he talks about religion is when he says he wants to invest government money into religious activities. Big, huge, blinking red light. It's still a secular state right? Didn't we, as Americans, fight long and hard to separate the two? But, Bush contends, he'll give money to ALL religions, somehow bypassing the secualar nature of the country. This is also wrong. Isn't this a problem in places like Afghanistan (or was until we busted up the operation)? Religion in government is bad because fundamental ideological differences will exist that CANNOT be reconciled. People will not make religious concessions - and this creates absolute demands from one group of people with certain beliefs. This will negatively affect those that don't believe the same thing.
This gets me thinking on how democracy is slowly starting to lose its luster in the US. When the last election was so close, and so many people are under the same rule, it kind of cancels out the whole democratic process. Say half the US population voted for Gore and the other half for Bush. That's a ton of votes either way. But Bush arbitrarily wins, someone has to. Winner or not, he takes the presidency and no one - not even Gore - complains or objects. Because - well - he IS the president, and no one wants to say anything wrong about the president during these delicate and trying times. So that means half the country just got screwed. The voting power of half the people has meant nothing. Before we go "spreading" this "democracy" around the world, let's make sure it's the best we can get it to be first.
On a lighter note, it made me laugh when Bush talked about creating a new channel to broadcast "reliable" news in the middle east. It seems they only badmouth us over there. Jeez, I wonder why. Immediately I thought of that Saudi channel that always broadcasts the terrorist tapes and messages (Al-Jazeera) and of Fox News. Imagine the uber-conservative Fox News telling people about what's going in the middle east!
"The US heroically stopped a barbaric custom of demeaning women and brainwashing children by banning a holy book knows as "Koran". Now here's Cathy with the weather."
I'd rather have a network willing to air more than less. Fox News in the middle east would create an even worse image of the US than the one that currently exists.
Surprisingly, he did say some things I found myself nodding at, thinking, "OK, that's a good thing." It hink this part of the speech was discussed in a boardroom somewhere under the headline "Re-election." Among the good ideas: Jobs for 21st century program, increasing AP programs in more schools, better preparation for better jobs, helping inmates re-integrate into society, eliminating frivolous medical lawsuits, and dealing with wasteful spending. The one thing that did not fit nor make sense was the steroid part. This had to have been meant for all the millions of sports fans that don't give a crap about this speech and won't know anything about it except for a small blurb in the sports pages reading "Bush against steroids." So even though he did say good things, good ideas - my cynicism tells me it was with the purpose of getting votes more so than laying out a plan.
He closed the speech with a bang "May god continue to bless Americans."
Key word here being continue. This implies that God is on America's side, and it probably didn't do a whole lot to eliminate the stereotype of America as egotistical and full of itself. Then again, this is Bush so you have to take that into account. All in all, the speech was very important because it provided a window into the current situation of American politics and policy. One of superficial religious rhetoric (if you're going to hide behind God, and least know everything that it implies), deceit, and self-interest for the people at the top of the power scheme.
The United States is in deep trouble and they have one last chance to do something about it before they fade into another four year abyss of irreperable damage.