At the end of his CNN interview before the State of the Union address, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked a no-trick question: “What is the state of the union?” And he gave a no-duck answer: “I think it’s troubled — to say anything else would be dishonest.”
At the end of his State of the Union speech, which could have been titled “No President Left Behind,” President Bush declared that “…so long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our Union will remain strong.”
So our job now is to revisit Bush’s State of the Union address and figure out what he really thinks the state of the United States is.
To do this, we start with one basic assumption: The president is smart enough to know the whole truth, including those truths he thinks about but is too smart to actually say. So, if he won’t say them, we will.
Bush said: “As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. At kitchen tables across our country, there is a concern about our economic future . … On housing, we must trust Americans with the responsibility of homeownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market …”
Bush thought: Why couldn’t the economy have held on for one more year? This sub-prime-mortgage disaster was absolutely the last thing I needed — but at least I wasn’t stupid enough to mention it in this speech. Why get all the critics yammering that I should have seen it coming, said something and done something way earlier? Well, I would have, if anybody had told me to. How was I to know? Even Cheney didn’t know.
Bush said: “Next week, I’ll send you a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs, totaling more than $18 billion.”
Bush thought: Why the heck didn’t my budget guys tell me I had to cut those programs years ago — instead of listening to our Republican pals who ran Congress and wanted to protect their pet projects?
Bush said: “The budget that I will submit will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012. American families have to balance their budgets; so should their government.”
Bush thought: With the economy in slo-mo, the deficit will only get worse. And critics will say my surplus by 2012 can’t happen because our budget won’t include the real long-term cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Only in the second half of his address did Bush get around to mentioning Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush said: “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.”
Bush thought: The Democrats are the best thing I have going — they keep saying the surge didn’t work when America knows the numbers show it did. What they don’t know is that even I don’t know why it worked. Part was our surge — but part was the Sunni insurgents who stopped killing our guys and began fighting Iraqi al Qaeda; also Muqtaqda al Sadr stopped fighting us. I still don’t know all the reasons why they all did that, but thank God and Allah they did.
Bush said: “In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country … a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda is now a young democracy … These successes must continue, so we’re adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan …”
Bush thought: The Taliban is coming back strong. Afghanistan is going to hell and NATO is bugging out. The Democrats don’t get it yet, but they won’t be stupid forever. Al Qaeda is recruiting big-time all over the Pakistani tribal lands. And even if Iraq works out, our 9/11 attackers may be back in business at the same old store, ready to do it again by the time my chopper lifts off from the South Lawn for the last time. Talk about lousy legacies! It’d be a real nightmare, except, of course, nothing stops me from sleepin’ like a baby. But that reminds me. Note to self: Call Karl. We need to do some more legacy stuff.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)