January 28, 2008
The Last Yawn
By Mary Lyon
What was the best part of the 2008 State of the Union speech by George W. Bush? Two things: It is, thankfully, his last such speech. And it, too, is now finished, just as he himself is for all intents and purposes. And whatever you might think of the pluses or minuses of the event, those two items are indeed good things.
I've never been impressed with much of what Young George has ever had to say - about this, or anything else. His words and messages and priorities leave me cold. His final State of the Union speech was just as lackluster. Throughout, I got the distinct feeling that he was merely going through the motions, half-heartedly, almost bored with it, apathetic, uninspired, as eager for it to be over as I was (well how 'bout that? The little cowboy and I actually may agree on something!). Up in the rafters, both his daughters looked bored and applauded accordingly. At one point, a roving camera cut to some fellow in the audience who contributed a large, long, and cavernous yawn. It took until 35 minutes after the hour for Bush even to broach the touchy subject of Iraq and 52 minutes into the hour before he arrived at his favorite malapropism: nu-cu-lar. Three times for that one. The usual cheap applause line came somewhere in between - about our troops enjoying the gratitude of a whole nation. That was one of a glaringly few moments in which everyone in the house rose to their feet. Not surprisingly, slightly less than half the house was enthusiastic enough to offer many standing ovations. Those came only from the Toady Society on the GOP side of the aisle. The Democrats for the most part stayed in their seats. Shrewdly, Dubya snuck in a plug for his onetime memoir "A Charge to Keep" by adding that very slogan to his speech fairly close to the top. Clever move! Perhaps he's thinking ahead to money-making strategies after his final departure from Washington. It's a nice buzz phrase to throw in, I suppose, especially since he didn't have many more, and that one is hardly memorable.
Some random observations:
Nancy Pelosi wore a light shade of purple - perhaps trying to offer an outward sign about bipartisanship between the blue team and the red team. She didn't blink nearly as frequently. Cheney on the other hand sat there stonefaced, and inert, like a fat toad waiting for the right bug to fly by. Or like Jabba the Hutt. Whichever applies.
Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush both wore vivid, look-at-me red suits. Laura evidently took a page from Nancy Reagan not only in staging but in making sure her wardrobe selection made her stand out from a relatively drab human tableau around her. She presumably also learned from that Oscar de la Renta wardrobe malfunction in which a handful of elegant female supporters arrived at a White House gala wearing "her" same fancy red gown. Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy, whose announced campaign alliance earlier in the day bigfooted even this annual extravaganza, sat side by side, wearing frowns throughout the ordeal.
Contradicta appeared in an almost virginal white outfit. She sat in front, on the aisle, easy to see, but appeared to exercise some serious caution at the end when it clearly appeared as though she was trying to delay her exit. Always a good idea to drag it out discreetly to maintain a safe, gossip-proof distance from her president as he slowly headed toward the back door, signing autographs along the way. People do talk, after all. That's probably why the shamelessly slobbering Minnesota floozy-congresswoman Michele Bachmann didn't have such a great seat this year. This rendered her unable to drape herself around Junior's neck perhaps in hopes of being dragged across town to some private discussion in the Situation Room with her hero. And for the first time, I noticed that, aside from the fans along the aisle, the room behind Dubya had emptied startlingly quickly. I wouldn't have wanted to stick around, either.
We learned that Iran is still pursuing nu-cu-lar weapons (even though George's own National Intelligence Estimate very recently debunked all such claims). We learned that terrorists still hate us for our freedoms. We learned about a fabled "Anbar Awakening" campaign among the Iraqi people, "American and Iraqi surges" (I didn't realize there was more than one), and a "protective overwatch mission" that our troops in Iraq may someday pursue, as soon as pigs fly and Barbara Bush donates her triple-strand pearls to a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union. So little meat in this buffet that it almost made me miss the dreaded "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" canard of yesteryear.
Other traditional shameless ploys for applause and audience sympathy were missing this time. Junior failed to raise his hand and point toward somebody in attendance to be singled out for heroism or Little-Guy-Made-Good accomplishments. Every State of the Union speech ordinarily has several of those. There were numerous military people present, including a few wounded - young enough to be from Iraq. Perhaps fittingly, just as his entire administration has handled them, their wounds, afflictions, and needs, he ignored them. Maybe he just didn't want to push it, for fear that drawing attention to them would remind the rest of us of what widespread waste, incompetence, malfeasance, and needless carnage his policies have created.
There were no surprises, really. Any of us could have predicted which chains he'd yank. Yay permanent tax cuts. Boo earmarks. Yay volunteerism. Boo "junk medical lawsuits." Yay "charitable choice." Boo cloning. We learned that the FISA bill will expire at the end of the week, and if everyone in the room didn't genuflect to his dictates yet again, and give phone companies retroactive immunity from prosecution for all the laws they've broken while violating our privacy, tapping our phones, and reading our emails, we'd all be going straight to hell. And cheers to those all-powerful and omnipresent "armies of compassion" that, if you believe Bush, have somehow miraculously fixed all the problems in post-Katrina New Orleans! Happy-happy joy-joy.
Junior didn't have a whole lot to brag about on this particular night. Fact is, there's nothing in his so-called "accomplishments" that anyone who's sober, adult, and more than minimally educated could - or would care to - boast about. He didn't even throw in the random statement of outrage about the national crisis of steroids in sports, an odd curveball he inserted into an earlier State of the Union speech. There was, mercifully, a single smug smirk fleetingly to be seen on his face. He seemed adrift - unconsciously mirroring the stricken condition in which he's left this nation. I think more than half the people in that joint session of Congress felt about this speech the same way a vast majority of Americans feel about the entire Bush era: counting the minutes until it's over.