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COLUMN

Not So Confident, Not So Strong

Chen Zhao

In last Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said the “state of our union is confident and strong.” Perhaps Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards put it best by saying the union that is strong is “the union of insiders and special interests.”

The President’s speech was undoubtedly written well and even delivered well (his speech coaches have truly worked wonders on him in the last three or four years), but what about the substance of the speech? Using the words of the wise John Kerry, I wish Bush would face reality.

Bush started with two of his favorite subjects: the war against terror and the war against Iraq. His glossy words and unabashed praise for the actions that his administration have taken in this area almost make one believe that the numerous standing ovations Bush received from those to the right of the aisle were deserved. Almost.

We cannot forget Bush’s words in his last State of the Union address. A year ago, he could hardly contain himself as he talked of Iraq’s massive supply of biological and chemical weapons and their presumed nuclear weapon program that was on the verge of being started, had already been started, or was near completion. Then, the message was that if we did not act right away, Iraq might just blow us away with their military might. After all, they were an imminent threat to the United States. Today, almost all of those allegations have been discredited and those infamous weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found. Bush does plan on going to the moon soon, so who knows? Maybe we’ll find those elusive weapons after all.

It may be true that no one regrets that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, but Bush failed to address many of the huge problems associated with our occupation of Iraq. First of all, because of the go-it-alone foreign policy that the administration adopted, many of our closest allies no longer stand by our side. As Senator Tom Daschle said in the Democratic response to the address, “When America is secure at home and our strength abroad is respected and not resented, only then will be we have a union as strong as the American people.” The President, meanwhile, thinks that we should not have to ask for a permission slip from other countries. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that has made so many other countries hate ours.

Secondly, the dynamic in Iraq itself is anything but rosy. The Shiite majority has repeatedly demonstrated their refusal to listen to the government set up by the U.S. and the Sunni and Kurdish minorities are also fighting for some control in the new government. The bloodshed and killing over there continues with no sign of letting up. The U.S. death toll is already over five hundred with thousands more injured. Bush has finally gone to the U.N. to ask for help in the rebuilding, but after the brash way his administration has dealt with other countries, not much help seems to be on the way.

Lastly, because of the way Washington shifted attention to Iraq, important resources were diverted from fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. The situation there is also plagued with problems, as the central government has little control over the country and the border with Pakistan is not even close to being secure. We have failed to wipe out the terrorists as effectively as we could have, and Osama bin Laden remains free. Sadly, the President offered no solutions to these problems in his speech.

Since most Americans have indicated that they don’t care all that much about the war if they’re not getting a paycheck, our fearless leader shrewdly paid attention to his polls and allowed time in the address for domestic issues. I almost wish that he had forgotten them. After all, his not doing anything about them would be infinitely better than what he has done and what he plans on doing.

The economy is the single most important issue, especially in an election year. The President’s economic policy is severely flawed because it comes down to one single point -- huge, unnecessary tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthy. His absolute insistence on these tax cuts has rendered our country incapable of addressing many of the pressing concerns that plague the daily lives of Americans. Bush tried to sell the illusion that his tax cuts have helped this economy and even asked Congress to make them permanent.

Consider that Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression to have experienced a net loss of jobs during his watch. In order to compensate for that loss, the economy needs to create 250,000 new jobs every month until the next inauguration, and this administration has made that its goal. One thousand jobs were created last month. That’s not terrible if you don’t think about how they only fell 249,000 short. Though Bush desperately tries to convince the country that the economy is healthy, Americans are simply not finding jobs. Sure, Wall Streeters are surviving now that the stock market has taken a turn for the better, but the average American is still suffering from the President’s economic policies. Worst of all, Bush made it clear that he’s not willing to change his strategy.

The special interests and extreme right wingers, if they had not been made giddy enough by Bush’s spiel on the economy, had to have been beside themselves after the President addressed other domestic issues. Bush does not want the government to run the health care system, even though many industrialized countries have universal health care and the government usually plays a large role.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Bush disappointingly, but predictably indicated his support of a Constitutional amendment to ban such marriages. Since when is it appropriate to pass an amendment to not allow citizens of this country to enjoy basic rights? Constitutional amendments, in the past, have been used to expand our rights, such as allowing women, non-whites, and teenagers vote, and ensuring our freedom to say and write whatever we want without government restriction.

Speaking of Constitutional amendments, Bush seems to have forgotten about the very first one, which contains a vital part of the foundation of our country: freedom of religion. The Establishment Clause bans the government from establishing or endorsing religion, yet the President, once again, pushed for his plan to allow federal funding for faith-based charities. He said that the law should not discriminate against such charities. But discriminating against homosexuals is okay?

Curiously, Bush gave time to an issue like drug use and steroids in sports. Though not insignificant, it certainly should not have gotten more time than something as crucial as he environment. But then again, what could the President possibly say about his environmental policies that would shed a positive light on them?

Undoubtedly, this year’s State of the Union address was also a stump speech of sorts for the President, with an election in the near future. After hearing Bush lay out his blueprint for his campaign, I can only hope that Americans will realize that there are many better options out there, and that next year, the state of our union can truly be as strong as the President tried to make it seem if the man giving the speech is different.