Post Mortem: State of the Union

Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, annotated by The Atlantic's James Fallows

By James Fallows

[Executive-summary version of the commentary ahead:]

• As a matter of rhetoric and political positioning, this was an effective speech. Love him or hate him, George W. Bush has become better and better as a formal orator. Does he write this stuff himself? Of course not. Does he even come up with the ideas? It doesn't matter. A president should be judged on the performance of the whole operation he oversees. And while that standard might not reflect so well on the President when it comes to, say, the response to Hurricane Katrina or the management of post-war Iraq, his effectiveness in presenting political arguments can't be denied. One way or another his team has learned how to create effective big-occasion speeches.

• As a matter of rhetoric and political positioning, the speech would have been twice as good if it were two-thirds as long. Every State of the Union speech goes through the same heartbreaking cycle. First, an Administration spokesman says that "this time" things will be different. The speech will be short, focused, "thematic"—above all, not a "laundry list," the inevitable cliché to describe a long categorization of specifics. Then, the entire federal government goes to work, begging for the sentence (which becomes the paragraph) about this or that urgent priority. Finally we have a result like last night's speech—a focused, thematic speech about foreign policy and national security, followed by another entire speech in classic laundry-list form about domestic projects.

• The most surprising thing about the first two thirds of the speech is how closely it resembled President Bush's second inaugural address—the one last year with the sweeping Woodrow Wilson-like promises to democratize the world. Since last fall, when the Administration launched its "how to think about Iraq" offensive, there had been less of this very ambitious, who-cares-about-immediate-obstacles talk. Instead we heard that progress was slow, that there had been setbacks, that mistakes had been made. (Historical note: "Mistakes have been made" was Richard Nixon's non-apologetic apology near the end of the Watergate debacle. Its power is the passive-voice construction, which admits an error without identifying the guilty party. Ever since then it's been DC shorthand for the way a politician squirms out of an embarrassing situation. The one president who really couldn't get away with this construction was Bill Clinton when it came to Monica Lewinsky. "Mistakes were made involving that woman, Ms. Lewinsky ... ")

My guess is that George Bush's suddenly-revived Wilsonian tone reflects his Administration's long-standing belief that it does best when playing offense. Apologize for the NSA program, or try to explain it away? Hell no! Make the people who question it apologize for their laxness about American security!

Now, the details. Bear in mind that everything that follows concerns the performance-art aspects of the President's speech, not the underlying policy. For more about the substance of the Administration's economic policy, please see this (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200507/fallows.) For more about Iraq policy, please see this (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200401/fallows) And for more about the war on terror in general, please see this (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200410/fallows) and this (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200501/fallows.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, members of the Supreme Court and diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Today our nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream. Tonight we are comforted by the hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken so long ago, and we are grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King. [Improvised introduction, since Mrs. King had died on the morning of the speech, and a skillful touching of two bases at once. By mentioning Coretta Scott King in his first moments on the stage, the President preempts criticism about his "insensitivity" to concerns of black America. And with the reference to the "glad reunion" with her husband in heaven, he deploys one of his most reliable rhetoric techniques. He uses terms that members of the "Faith Community" among his audience will instantly recognize and appreciate, but that other listeners won't necessarily notice or take offense at. If he'd used some more obvious language—"we are grateful that Jesus is now taking her into His bosom"—he'd create as much resistance as support. Phrases like "glad reunion," or "finishing well" at the end of the speech, help him without hurting.]

Every time I'm invited to this rostrum, I'm humbled by the privilege, and mindful of the history we've seen together. We have gathered under this Capitol dome in moments of national mourning and national achievement. [Reminder: most of the times I've come to speak to both Houses of Congress, I have been a wartime President declaring our resolve after 9/11 and preparing us for war.]

We have served America through one of the most consequential periods of our history—and it has been my honor to serve with you. [Here begins the Uriah Heep section of the speech: an appeal to the bipartisan "what's best for America" spirit, from a modest leader humbled by his responsibilities. This initial pose helps set up later parts of the speech, in which he asserts the sweeping and intrinsic powers of the presidency, and sticks a shiv in the Democrats for their weakness and irresponsibility.] In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of goodwill and respect for one another—and I will do my part. [Here endeth the words of Uriah Heep.]

Tonight the state of our Union is strong—and together we will make it stronger. [Now here is a surprise! The sentence containing the thought, "The State of the Union is XXXX" is always one of the most labored-over parts of a speech. Usually it has some kind of artful tied-to-the-times way of saying, "The State of the Union is strong." This is as simple and understated a way of making the point as we've seen in many years. It's the first time in my memory that the sentence did not serve as an applause line—the President just rushed through it, and there seemed to be no obvious demand for applause from the floor.]

In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom—or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. [Ah! Our old friend, that staple of political rhetoric, the False Choice. "We can move forward in confidence, or we can slink back in cowardice. We can embrace the challenges of the future or cling to the myths of the past." You can write this stuff virtually as fast as you can type, and while it never actually makes logical sense if examined, political rhetoric could hardly exist without it. Certainly this paragraph could not.] We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy—or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting—yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership—so the United States of America will continue to lead. [You can see the logical gears grinding here: the dependable "False Choice" passage sets up the conclusion: "America must lead!" And on that framework the rest of the speech can be attached and arranged. We must lead toward democracy; we must lead in open trade; we must lead in competitiveness; etc etc etc]

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal—we seek the end of tyranny in our world. [Whoa! This takes us right back to the Second Inaugural Address.] Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. [Raising, and attempting to dismiss through the rest of this paragraph, the objection that boils down to: Wait a minute, this plan hasn't worked so well in Iraq.] In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September the 11th, 2001, [For fifty years, Democrats ran against the ghost of Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. Maybe not for fifty years, but certainly for now, Republicans will run on the ghost of September 11, 2001.] we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer—so we will act boldly in freedom's cause. [Previous three sentences sum up what critics call the "neocon fantasy" and what supporters call the "democratic vision" that form the core of the Bush foreign policy.]

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government—with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half—in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran—because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well. [A somewhat awkward passage. You never want a speech to raise in listeners' minds something you'd rather not have them think about—unless you are going to address that concern right away. Anyone in-touch enough with the news to be watching this speech would have to think during this passage: What about Hamas and the PLO? What about the elected theocrats in Iraq? The President sort of gets around to these points later on, but he'd be wiser not to invite the awkward thoughts right here.]

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam—the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death. Terrorists like bin Laden [nervy mention of this name, since it invites another thought: Hey, wasn't this the guy who attacked us? Wasn't he public enemy #1? Why don't we have him locked up?] are serious about mass murder—and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder.

Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. [This is a sophisticated step up from one of the Administration's standard arguments about Iraq. When asked whether the invasion of Iraq might actually have worsened the terrorist threat, Vice President Cheney, in particular, has specialized in this answer: Hey, we weren't in Iraq on 9/11, and they attacked us anyway! That doesn't meet a logical test, but the President's point here does: an insurgent-dominated Sunnistan in central Iraq could indeed become another haven for terrorists.] Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. When they murder children at a school in Beslan, or blow up commuters in London, or behead a bound captive, the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it. [This last sentence is one of several effective lines summing up the policy stated in the Second Inaugural address. Agree or disagree, the President and his team have found ways of distilling their argument.]

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. [This sentence is not going to convince anyone who didn't start out supporting the president. With a normal army, yes—if you pin them down one place they can't attack thousands of miles away. But why should that apply to a loose terrorist network?] There is no peace in retreat. [This sentence, by contrast, is clear and strong, as is much of what follows.] And there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will—by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself—we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil.

America rejects the false comfort of isolationism. [Freudian slip? "False comfort" to illustrate another "False Choice"? The False Choice, of course, is that you're either 100% for the Administration's policy, or you are embracing isolationism.] We are the nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed and move this world toward peace. We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders—and for the others, their day will come. [I'll stop pointing this out now, but the President and his team have figured out that the right way to present this war is as part of an honorable continuum from the Good War in which the president's own father fought. In this model 9/11 was Pearl Harbor; Al Qaeda are the Nazis; questionable regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are like our questionable anti-Nazi allies, the Soviets; and the current President is less like FDR than like the unflappable Winston Churchill. You don't have to agree with this analogy, but it is wise to notice the way it's being put forward.]

We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine President and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy. We're on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory. First, we're helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency will be marginalized.

Second, we're continuing reconstruction efforts, and helping the Iraqi government to fight corruption and build a modern economy, so all Iraqis can experience the benefits of freedom. And, third, we're striking terrorist targets while we train Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy. Iraqis are showing their courage every day, and we are proud to be their allies in the cause of freedom. [One-paragraph summary of the multi-week, multi-speech Iraq Offensive late last year.]

Our work in Iraq is difficult because our enemy is brutal. [But this summary has none of the "mistakes have been made" tone of last fall's series of speeches.] But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, the nation has gone from dictatorship to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds, and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces. I am confident in our plan for victory; I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people; I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.

The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels—but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C. [Apart from the merits of the argument, a somewhat weird rhetorical moment. An attack on politicians in Washington, DC, delivered by ... the most powerful of all politicians in Washington, DC. A further refinement of the "running against government as a way to control government" strategy pioneered by Ronald Reagan.]

Our coalition has learned from our experience in Iraq. We've adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. [Not "mistakes have been made," but "lessons have been learned"—and to the President's credit, it's in the active voice.] Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. [How can he have delivered this with a straight face? It's always a mistake to deliver a line that no one believes, and that everyone realizes the speaker doesn't believe either.] In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. [The payoff for the preceding impossible-to-believe sentence: by setting up the theoretical possibility of "constructive" criticism, the President can distinguish that from harmful destructive carping.] Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy. [Effective line, but how does it square with the President's emphasis from his earliest days in Texas on "personal accountability"?]

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country, and show that a pledge from America means little. [Effective two sentences, because they're true. Even those who most opposed the war have to admit that there is not a nice way out of it.] Members of Congress, however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in this vital mission. [Last sentence here ties to skillful next paragraph. This is all an elaboration on "Support Our Troops," and ties support for the individual soldiers to support for the policy as a whole.]

Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices—and showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear. They know what it's like to fight house to house in a maze of streets, to wear heavy gear in the desert heat, to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb. And those who know the costs also know the stakes. Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting in Fallujah. He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here is what Dan wrote: "I know what honor is. ... It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to ... . Never falter! Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting."

Staff Sergeant Dan Clay's wife, Lisa, and his mom and dad, Sara Jo and Bud, are with us this evening. Welcome. [This is of course the "Lenny Skutnik" moment—the introduction of someone sitting in the guest box with the First Lady, whose virtues exemplify a theme the President wants to stress. Sustained applause here, not simply in genuine recognition and sympathy for this bereaved family but because no one can afford to be the first to stop clapping. Applause for the family hard to separate from applause for the President; "support the troops" becomes "support the war."]

Our nation is grateful to the fallen, who live in the memory of our country. We're grateful to all who volunteer to wear our nation's uniform—and as we honor our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America's military families.

Our offensive against terror involves more than military action. Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change. So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. Elections are vital, but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, and protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote.

The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election—and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace. [Okay—and what if they don't?] Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform—now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts. Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon—and that must come to an end. The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. [This paragraph comes close to, but doesn't really deal with, the dicey question: what happens when democracy leads to results we really don't like???]

Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. [This is it? According to pre-speech analysis, the President was going to do more on Iran, with a further hint of how the U.S. was going to lay down the law about Iran's nuclear plan. That he didn't do so may indicate how limited the choices actually are.]

To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, and fighting disease, and spreading hope in hopeless lands. [A just-barely-does-the-job transition sentence, to "soft power" issues.] Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need. We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are sources of terrorism, and organized crime, and human trafficking, and the drug trade.

In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform. For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Short-changing these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security, and dull the conscience of our country. I urge members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America.

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. [Phrases like "here at home" again mark this as the classic transition sentence.] The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives, protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks. They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime—so I ask you to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. [Political question: When the Administration argues that a more extensive wiretapping program might have prevented the 9/11 attacks, why don't the Democrats say: Hey, what about that memo in August 2001, with the title "Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States"? Sometimes politics turns on a sheer difference in operating ability, and the Republicans just are better at making their case these days.] So to prevent another attack—based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute—I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again. [Continuing previous point: anyone looking at this web site knows the arguments about (a) why it is misleading to call this "the terrorist surveillance program," and (b) why the real issue is the Administration's failure to go to the FISA court for a warrant. But until the Democrats find a similar concise rebuttal to the "talking with al Qaeda" slogan, the President will get away with this argument.]

In all these areas—from the disruption of terror networks, to victory in Iraq, to the spread of freedom and hope in troubled regions—we need the support of our friends and allies. To draw that support, we must always be clear in our principles and willing to act. The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world. Yet we also choose to lead because it is a privilege to serve the values that gave us birth. American leaders—from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan—rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.

Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy—a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress. And tonight I ask for yours. Together, let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom. [Uriah Heep in even less believable guise. This appeal to bipartisanship follows two paragraphs of what the Democrats would consider the most inflammatorily partisan rhetoric.]

Here at home, America also has a great opportunity [Cf "here at home" above. Also, this is where the laundry list begins. Speech much more plodding and dutiful from here on out.]: We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world.

Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs—more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.

The American economy is preeminent, but we cannot afford to be complacent. In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors, like China and India, and this creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears. So we're seeing some old temptations return. Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy. Others say that the government needs to take a larger role in directing the economy, centralizing more power in Washington and increasing taxes. We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy—even though this economy could not function without them. All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction—toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.

Tonight I will set out a better path: an agenda for a nation that competes with confidence; an agenda that will raise standards of living and generate new jobs. [This sentence would typically be the intro to a stand-alone speech about an economic agenda. Placed here, twenty-five minutes into the speech, it rings of what it is: an "and another thing ... " connection to a completely different speech.] Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it.

Keeping America competitive begins with keeping our economy growing. And our economy grows when Americans have more of their own money to spend, save, and invest. In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses, and families—and they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth. Yet the tax relief is set to expire in the next few years. If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax increase they do not expect and will not welcome.

Because America needs more than a temporary expansion, we need more than temporary tax relief. I urge the Congress to act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent.

Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto. [Ummm, what about the regular old veto, which the President has never used?]

We must also confront the larger challenge of mandatory spending, or entitlements. This year, the first of about 78 million baby boomers turn 60, including two of my Dad's favorite people—me and President Clinton. (Laughter.) [Nice touch—including the predictable cutaway shot of Senator Hillary Clinton in a "we are not amused" pose.] This milestone is more than a personal crisis—(laughter)—it is a national challenge. The retirement of the baby boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices—staggering tax increases, immense deficits, or deep cuts in every category of spending.

Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security [This is the one big speechwriting gaffe in the address: giving the Democrats a chance to leap up in derisive applause]—(applause)—yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away. And every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.

So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This commission should include members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan solutions. We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved.

Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. One out of every five factory jobs in America is related to global trade, and we want people everywhere to buy American. With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker. [This last sentence is a mistake, because every sane person will recognize it as pandering. With wage rates less than one-tenth of those prevailing in the United States, OF COURSE Chinese and Indian workers can out-compete Americans. That's the problem, which everyone recognizes. Better to raise the point in a less obviously pandering way.]

Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care. Our government has a responsibility to provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility. For all Americans—for all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship, and help people afford the insurance coverage they need.

We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors. We will strengthen health savings accounts—making sure individuals and small business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get. We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance. And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice—leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN—I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year. [This whole stretch of the speech—worthy goals, very modest expectation by anyone listening that the problems will be addressed.]

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, [Another gaffe. Ringing lines work best when they are connected to everything else the listener knows about the speaker. Thus, the "we cannot surrender to evil" talk of the first half of the speech is fine. This line is at odds with everything the audience knows or thinks about President Bush, and therefore to the degree it is memorable it is actually a problem for him.] which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources—and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative—a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research—at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. [Apart from the many policy points that will be debated in this passage—why not mileage standards for cars, what about a gas tax, how exactly should we pursue new safe nuclear plants—this is of course notable for "switch grass." It's always risky to use a term or phrase that will immediately evoke a "Huh???" reaction from listeners and that will inevitably lead to followup stories about how on earth it got in the speech.]

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

And to keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people—and we're going to keep that edge. Tonight I announce an American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science.

First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

Second, I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit—(applause)—to encourage bolder private-sector initiatives in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life—and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.

Third, we need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We've made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.

Preparing our nation to compete in the world is a goal that all of us can share. I urge you to support the American Competitiveness Initiative, and together we will show the world what the American people can achieve.

America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society. [Now we move to the "values" discussion, always an important part of Bush State of the Union addresses.]

In recent years, America has become a more hopeful nation. [And the evidence of that would be ... what exactly? It's not what any opinion polls seem to indicate, especially results on the crucial long-running poll about whether America is "on the right track" or heading in the "wrong direction."] Violent crime rates have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1970s. Welfare cases have dropped by more than half over the past decade. Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001. There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.

These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation—a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment. Government has played a role. Wise policies, such as welfare reform and drug education and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country. And everyone here tonight, Democrat and Republican, has a right to be proud of this record.

Yet many Americans, especially parents, still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture, and the health of our most basic institutions. They're concerned about unethical conduct by public officials, and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage. [This last sentence is delightful. It declares "moral equivalence" between the whole Abramoff/DeLay mess and the activist judges who are endorsing gay marriage. You have to admire the panache.] They worry about children in our society who need direction and love, and about fellow citizens still displaced by natural disaster, and about suffering caused by treatable diseases.

As we look at these challenges, we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline, or that our culture is doomed to unravel. The American people know better than that. We have proven the pessimists wrong before—and we will do it again.

A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under the law. The Supreme Court now has two superb new members—new members on its bench: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. I thank the Senate for confirming both of them. I will continue to nominate men and women who understand that judges must be servants of the law, and not legislate from the bench.

Today marks the official retirement of a very special American. For 24 years of faithful service to our nation, the United States is grateful to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. [And what about Alan Greenspan, retiring this same day? Is the omission intentional or just an oversight?]

A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids [WHAT??????????????????????], and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator—and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.

A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust. Honorable people in both parties are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington—I support your efforts. Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility—and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray. As we renew the promise of our institutions, let us also show the character of America in our compassion and care for one another.

A hopeful society gives special attention to children who lack direction and love. Through the Helping America's Youth Initiative, we are encouraging caring adults to get involved in the life of a child—and this good work is being led by our First Lady, Laura Bush. This year we will add resources to encourage young people to stay in school, so more of America's youth can raise their sights and achieve their dreams.

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency—and stays at it until they're back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived. [These two paragraphs are what's left of the Katrina Initiative that seemed to be Job One for the Administration last fall.]

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.

A hopeful society acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, which can be prevented, and treated, and defeated. More than a million Americans live with HIV, and half of all AIDS cases occur among African Americans. I ask Congress to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act, and provide new funding to states, so we end the waiting lists for AIDS medicines in America. We will also lead a nationwide effort, working closely with African American churches and faith-based groups, to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions, end the stigma of AIDS, and come closer to the day when there are no new infections in America.

Fellow citizens, we've been called to leadership in a period of consequence. We've entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite. We see great changes in science and commerce that will influence all our lives. Sometimes it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore. Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing. Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others. Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well? [This sentence is not simply a reappearance of the familiar False Choice. Its final two words are also a very important signal to the faithful. To the evangelical community in particular, "finishing well" has tremendous overtones of fulfilling one's duty on Earth. It resonates with them, and goes unnoticed by most of the audience.]

Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward—optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come.

May God bless America. [And, as I pray each year, may God some day spare us from this boilerplate concluding line to every Presidential address.]

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/02/post-mortem-state-of-the-union/304574/