Watching President Bush deliver the State of the Union last night was a painful experience. Not just because it was a rehash of the same old nostrums, veto threats, and right wing talking points that have been his mantra for the last couple of years, but because he radiated the aura of someone who clearly would have rather been doing something else, so he just went through the motions, forcing himself to do it like a reluctant child being made to do a chore: “Aw, do I hafta?”
Thus being the case, the president just showed up, knowing that the remainder of his presidency is being counted down in months instead of years and knowing that last night’s address was just a momentary distraction from the campaign to find someone else to stand at that podium a year from now. His tone was defiant at times, petulant at others, and completely lacking in any vision of optimism or impetus to get Congress motivated to accomplish anything. All he offered was veto threats and dire warnings if they didn’t do what he wanted like extend tax cuts and warrantless wiretapping, and he even took a swipe at some of the talking points of the Democratic candidates, as if he could set the tone for the Republicans out there campaigning for the nomination. (He also indulged in a bit of unintended irony when he advocated improving health care: “To build a future of quality health care, we must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options.” This from a man who would amend the Constitution to institute a federal ban abortion. Trust, apparently, only goes so far.) And to be sure that he left the stage with his reputation intact, he dragged out the bogeyman of terrorism and “the enemy,” never really saying who this enemy is: the Taliban? Iran? Osama bin Laden? (Where is he, anyway?)
Mr. Bush has never been a visionary president, and so when he stands up at the rostrum in the well of the House, he sounds more like a sales manager trying to rally his staff to sell a product that no one is interested in buying anymore. And aside from the right wing Kool-Aid Kidz who jumped up and applauded every time the president looked at them, the audience looked as if they too would have rather been any other place else but there. Clearly some of them were bored, tired, and restless, barely being able to engender the polite attention that the occasion mandates. And it was very clear that most of them would rather be out on the campaign trail, knowing that their future — and the future of the country — had already moved on.