to State of the Union Address, 2003
January 28, 2003
Speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush
For a speechwriter, the State of the Union address weds
the best and worst of worlds. Best: the honor. Worst:
the need to balance vision, detail, and varied publics.
President Bush walked that fine line superbly tonight.
He was persuasive, forceful, and above all, Presidential.
If the past is prologue, this address positions Bush
to forge 2003's agenda at home and abroad.
John M. Murphy
University of Georgia
This speech was one of the more partisan addresses in
Although there were some nice moments--particularly his proposal for African
AIDS relief and his defense of the conduct of the war on terror--the speech
did nothing to reach out to those who have doubts about or disagree with
his policies. Most state of the union addresses call for bipartisan cooperation;
this speech, in contrast to his famous September 20, 2001 address, never
did. Most states of the union pick out a specific member of the opposition
party to praise, as President Bush did in years past; this speech did not.
Most states of the union refrain from sarcastic partisan attacks; this speech
claimed alternative health plans would cause rationing. Most States of the
union seek international cooperation; this state of the union declared the
determination to go it alone.
Strictly partisan states on the union sometimes work, but usually only in
election years, as one did for FDR in 1936. It will be interesting to see
if a speech this narrowly crafted can persuade the American people. One additional
note: by so prominently advertising Secretary Powell's speech to the UN Security
Council on February 5, the President raised the expectations for an Adlai
Stevenson performance--for definitive evidence of Iraqi possession of weapons
of mass destruction. It will be interesting to see if Powell can live up
to that standard.
Oregon State University
My assessment of the speech: Lacking in substance (or
anything new), full of sound and fury (and so grateful
that he is learning how to follow the tele-prompt with
a blue tie on, and knowing that he is now actually quite
concerned about AIDS in Africa after announcing that
he has a "Bio-shield" that will protect him
in the long run from, you know, whatever Powell might
have to press for him), my hope and prayer is, for him
to lead us not into evil, but to deliver us from temptation,
so that we may not be led by a cheer leader, but by a
real leader, if there are any left.
Florida State University
It seems that timing was on George W. Bush's side tonight
as he delivered his most important State of the Union
in his presidency. With the public's appetite for a war
with Iraq declining almost daily, this address will surely
give the president a lift in the short-run; it remains
to be seen whether others in the administration--notably
Colin Powell's upcoming speech at the U.N. on February
5 which the president previewed--can catalyze that short-term
gain into long-term commitments.
Bush clearly gained rhetorical momentum as he proceeded through his hour-long
address. It's clear that Bush likes a good fight and this address did nothing
to suggest otherwise. At the heart of his case against Iraq, Bush responded
to the call for more evidence with six ostensible proofs of Hussein's intransigence.
Whether this combination of sources suggesting that Iraq indeed "has
much to hide" will carry the day at home and abroad remains to be seen.
Suffice it to say that the public's skepticism is being taken seriously at
the White House.
The unresolved ambivalence in Bush's message tonight involved the specifics
of a possible attack: would the U.S. "lead a coalition" to disarm
Saddam,or will the nation not "depend on others" as the U.N. continues
Finally, it was hard to listen tonight and not be reminded of Ronald Reagan.
Not only did President Bush employ the logic and rhetoric of supply-side
economics to justify further tax cuts to stimulate the economy, but the pronounced
optimism, the sense of divine mission, the clear link between American Democracy
and its proud history of reluctant intervention, and the moral imperative
of America's foreign policy--all of these were staples of Reagan's American
story. And, while Bush certainly isn't comfortable with the language of the
transcendent and the drama of individualism heroism in the manner of Reagan,
the sentiments are strikingly similar.
Georgia State University
This was an especially difficult speech as the demands
made upon it were so high. Bush was supposed to address
both economic concerns and foreign policy fears. He chose
to do this by conveying, directly and indirectly, American
resolve as a key theme of the speech. And it probably
worked better or his supporters than for his detractors.
This was not a speech that changed many minds.
There was some (very self-conscious) poetry, none of it memorable. This speech
did not soar. States of the Union so rarely do, however, this is perhaps
an unfair standard.
There were some discordant notes--such as the line about "put it this
way, they are not a problem for America any more" (that is not the exact
quotation), which, I suspect, reinforced the dreaded "cowboy" image.
There were a number of moments that coopted Democratic positions on issues,
in the best traditions of Reagan and Clinton--items that he can freely ask
for, being fairly sure that a Republican Congress will not pass them, thus
giving him the issue without having to actually pay for it--and the discussion
of how to pay for anything was noticeably absent.
Domestic policy got fairly short shrift; as did most foreign policy. The
parts on Iraq were of a piece with his rhetoric on Iraq generally; there
are so many reasons for going to war (is it because Saddam=Hitler? Because
of weapons of mass destruction? Denial of human rights? Because Americans
must fight evil in all of its manifestations?) that it is not clear why we
must go to war.
In all, it was an adequate speech, but not one that will serve to fully justify
war abroad or his agenda here at home.
Karrin Vasby Anderson
Colorado State University
President Bush began his 2002 state of the union address
by rallying audience support for his war on terrorism.
Merging themes of “homeland” and “economic” security,
Bush tried to foster approval for his domestic policy
by linking it semantically and politically to the foreign
policy that many U.S. citizens supported. The Republican
sweep in the midterm election, for which the President
received much of the credit, suggested that Bush’s
strategy was successful. In tonight’s state of
the union address, Bush began by responding to the domestic
woes that weighed heavily on the minds of so many Americans.
He learned the lesson of his father’s presidency:
when Americans are under economic strain, the president
cannot count on the momentum created by approval for
foreign policy to carry him to the White House for a
second term. Semantically, however, Bush continued the
strategy of linking his domestic policy to the broader
issue of security, announcing that we have a “duty
to reform domestic programs vital to our country.”
In his discussion of the domestic agenda, Bush made the savvy rhetorical
move of coopting the Democratic agenda, emphasizing problems such as joblessness,
health-care reform, and environmental awareness. The president’s proposed
policy solutions, however, appealed to his conservative supporters. Many
Americans currently feel that the division between Democrats and Republicans
is eroding—that a clear distinction cannot be drawn between the two
major parties, in large part because they purport concern for the same problems.
Bush’s state of the union address reminds citizens that the difference
between the major political parties in the United States today is not necessarily
the issues they address but the particular solutions they propose for shared
When Bush turned to foreign policy, his explicit attempt to assure Americans
that he was winning the war against terrorism was designed to heighten fear
and exacerbate the feeling that aggressive action against terrorists (and
potential allies of terrorists such as Iraq) is warranted. He noted that
some days go by when the general public does not hear about terrorist threats,
but not a day goes by when he is not made aware of new threats and existing
plots. This assertion functioned as a tacit rebuttal to the vocal minority
of citizens who oppose war against Iraq and question the erosion of civil
liberties that has resulted from the war on terror. Bush articulated a foreign
policy that went beyond Ronald Reagan’s posture of peace through strength.
He posited preemptive strike as defensive maneuver. With respect to Project
Bio Shield, Bush asserted that we must assume that our enemies will use these
[biological] weapons and we must act before the dangers are upon us. He urged
that if Saddam Hussein did not voluntarily disarm, “for the safety
of our people, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Bush stated
that “sometimes peace must be defended,” and inhabited the defensive/preemptive
posture with phrases like, “if war is forced upon us . . . .” Bush
created a paradoxical persona for the United States. On one hand our nation
leads the world—in fighting AIDS, in fighting terrorism, in defending
freedom. Conversely, however, we are easily goaded into a defensive military
posture. As Americans continue to deliberate about the war on terrorism and
the invasion of Iraq, the paradox of preemptive strike as defensive maneuver
must be recognized, articulated, and debated.
Thomas W. Benson
Penn State University
A presidential State of the Union Address is usually
not a place for genuine deliberation, and yet it is a
focal point for deliberation. In creating the "laundry
list" of administration proposals that goes into
every State of the Union Address (despite repeated efforts
by presidents to avoid getting bogged down in the list),
every major department of the Executive Branch urges
its priorities on the White House. For this reason, the
process of creating the State of the Union Address helps
to focus decision making.
The form of the speech itself, and this was true of the first, "domestic" half
of President George Bush's speech of January 28, 2003, is not deliberative
in form or appeal. It tends to be a collection of short paragraphs in which
a program is linked to a principle, often a highly partisan principle, leading
to rousing applause from the president's party. Just such a rhythm was working
in the domestic policy half of tonight's speech, and even the president seemed
disconnected from the list -- as he paused during the applause following
a punch line, he sought out friends in the chamber and gave them special
nods and smiles, as if the speech was in another time zone.
When he turned to foreign policy, the president changed not only mood but
also rhetorical structure, devoting more time to explanation and advocacy.
As he spoke about Iraq, he developed a case that differed from the rhythm
of most recent State of the Union Addresses in sustaining long passages that
were not interrupted by applause--not, presumably, because his listeners
disagreed but because he was actually engaging in, by today's standards for
such an address, prolonged, deliberative argumentation. Americans will differ
on whether the case against Iraq was new or compelling, but it seems to me
that it is worth noting how the rhetoric itself was changed from its generic
form to suit the occasion.
Still, the State of the Union Address is only part of a larger deliberative
process, developed inside the administration in the months leading up to
the speech, and extending to the Congress, press, and public in the weeks
to come. Curiously, we are likely to have much more extended deliberation
now about those domestic matters that the president addressed only briefly
with short paragraphs intended to provoke applause; at the same time, the
question of whether we are now to go to war in Iraq may be beyond the point
where extended Congressional deliberation is likely to be decisive.
Fred I. Greenstein
George W. Bush has been compared with Ronald Reagan,
both in the depth of his conservatism and his insistence
on pursuing clearly stipulated goals, but will never
compare with Reagan (or FDR, or JFK) as a public communicator.
Still, there has been a dramatic improvement in his use
of the bully pulpit during his two years in office. In
contrast with the halting, awkward delivery of his inaugural
address on January 20, 2001, Bush is now capable of addressing
the nation and world with force and evident conviction.
In the case of tonight State of the Union Address, Bush had the advantage
of a well-crafted, cogent, and sometimes eloquent text. His presentation
(which he had repeatedly rehearsed) was fluent. In contrast to the pre-9/11
period, he also seemed completely at ease. These remarks are about the quality
of Bush's rhetoric and the effectiveness of his delivery, not the merits
of his policies. These are bound to be viewed through the prism of one's
personal beliefs and partisan commitments. Still, it was an address that
should advance the president's purposes, domestically and abroad. If not
a home run, a definite base hit.
Stephen E. Lucas
University of Wisconsin
Effectively written and organized, Bush's speech was
technically very sound. He introduced points clearly
and explained them as fully as can be expected in a State
of the Union address. Rather than presenting a rambling
laundry list of proposals, he limited himself to six
major topics--the economy, health care, energy independence,
compassion for the needy, foreign policy in general,
and the war on terrorism in particular.
He made a wise decision to deal with domestic issues first and to save Iraq
for the end of the speech. Otherwise, the speech would have been anticlimactic
in structure. He also used the classical rhetorical devices of repetition
and parallelism to help clarify and reinforce his ideas. His delivery continues
to improve with each major speech. I suspect he will get high marks from
the public for his leadership skills as a result of this address. His gestures,
pauses, timing, and pacing were all markedly better than in last year's State
of the Union and show that, unlike his father, he understands that a strong
set of rhetorical skills are essential to presidential leadership.
There were several noteworthy parts of the address, but to my mind the strongest
section was that dealing with the AIDS crisis in Africa. This is one of the
great moral and humanitarian crises of our time, and Bush addressed it with
With respect to a possible war with Iraq, he provided
a forceful brief of his position and set the stage for
Colin Powell's address to the United Nations. He did
not make a final case for war, but that was not the aim
of the speech. This address was the opening volley in
what will be a fusillade of speeches, briefings, op-eds,
talk-show interviews, and the like that, if war comes,
will culminate in a presidential address to the nation
on that subject alone.
Steven R. Goldzwig
President Bush had a tall order to fulfill in tonight’s
State of the Union address. The demands were as complex
as they were disparate. In trying to deal with both domestic
policy and impending war with Iraq, the president risked
a diminution of emphasis and attention span.
I believe he chose wisely in placing the domestic goals as the first items
for coverage in the speech. While this discussion was largely flat, the selection
helped keep viewers and listeners tuned in who were looking for news about
the pending war.
One minor surprise in Bush’s address was the announced AIDS package
for Africa. After the AIDS announcement, Bush appeared to be more animated
and he moved into the discussion of the war on terrorism with added alacrity.
Bush mounted an incredible list of Saddam’s transgressions, but much
of it was already reported. In his effort to list the scope and depth of
evils associated with the regime, Bush almost seemed to relish speaking about
the torture, rape, and murder he catalogued. He drew the dark and shadowy
lines of a monster that must be destroyed. As to weapons of mass destruction,
Bush’s repeated mantra that Saddam "has not accounted for the
materials" and that he has "given no evidence that he has destroyed
them" was an effective form of repetition. One distinct failure in the
speech, however, was the accusation that Saddam Hussein can be linked to
Al Quaida. Bush made the charge but provided no evidence and gave no support.
The claim passed by quickly and meekly.
One of the most troubling aspects of the speech was that Bush seemed to play
directly to fears that the decision to go to war with Iraq because of its
refusal to give up weapons of mass destruction would potentially be just
the first in a series of actions conducted at U.S. discretion which will
be mounted to liberate peoples and nations from other "outlaw regimes." This
implied worldwide quest to ensure democracy wherever it might falter, to
take on every tyrant, to dispel each tinhorn dictator one-by-one, seemed
a tad megalomaniacal. This kind of posturing could not help but add fuel
to the fire of mounting fears of our European allies and other nations around
the world. Here, the "cowboy image" was enhanced by Bush’s
overblown discourse. While "free people will set the course of history," is
a clever and perhaps memorable line, its repercussions announce a new Bush
Doctrine which may be as ominous as it is ambitious.
Bush delivered a pre-declaration of war. The bellicose theme and tone of
the address left an overwhelming impression that the United States is going
to war. While the full case for "disarming" the Iraqi "dictator" was
promised in an upcoming address by Colin Powell on February 5th, President
Bush left little doubt of his intention to go to war and to see it through--
unilaterally if necessary.
The world and our nation can only hope that Mr. Hussein is listening and
that he will take the steps to avoid the next phase in this conflict. It
is obvious to me that George W. Bush’s patience has run out, that he
has ruled out any further need for listening or dialogue, and with it, all
hope for peace.
Mari Boor Tonn
University of Maryland
President Bush's State of the Union speech was replete
with numerous tensions, some practical, some rhetorical,
and some philosophical. On a practical level, he did
not adequately explain how he planned to reconcile his
sizable tax cut proposals with the price tag of his various
initiatives regarding universal affordable health care,
environmental research, aid to Africa for AIDS prevention
and treatment, drug addiction programs, new homeland
security demands, and, of course, a possible prolonged
war with Iraq, all without passing the cost of current
problems to, in his words, "other generations." Rhetorically,
his constant appeals to unity were at odds with the unusually
partisan nature of some of his early remarks in the domestic
portion of his speech, such as his appeals to changing
tax laws for investors and his attacks upon trial lawyers.
Moreover, his suggestion that the economy is "recovering" and his
talk of the current state as "after recession" implies an improvement
in the economic situation that those affected by unemployment rising would
likely dispute. Philosophically, the President appears conflicted about the
role of government and the meaning of citizenship.
At times, he appears committed to the power of the individual, whether it
is in boosting the economy through personal spending, privatizing aspects
of health care, or mentoring children and prisoners. At other times, however,
he exudes commitment to the power of and obligation for the collective, most
particularly in his proposal for AIDS relief and his discussion of soldiers
sacrificing selves for the safety of the nation and the world. So, too, his
section on dealing with various rogue nations--Iran, North Korea, and Iraq--was
inconsistent. Although he claimed that "Different threats require different
strategies," his discussion of Iran, for example, did not discuss any
type of strategy at all.
With regards to North Korea, he described the United States cooperation with
various countries "to find a peaceful solution" and did not raise
any specter of military confrontation. His approach to Iraq, of course, is
markedly different in that the prospect of war is made all but imminent.
The result, I predict, is that the likely bump in approval ratings typically
occasioned by State of the Union speeches will be of short "duration."
Roderick P. Hart
University of Texas at Austin
George W. Bush is a president for our times. Bad economy.
Dangerous weapons. Shocking diseases. Worried seniors.
Nervous nations. Mr. Bush's mind is a mind for our times
-- declarative, not interrogative. This is a president
who knows what he knows and who never thinks beyond his
reach. Never looks back. Looks forward only to next Tuesday.
George Bush's rhetoric is a rhetoric for our times. Short sentences. Short
phrases. Short words. There is nothing liquid about this president, nothing
mellifluous. His utterances do not flow. They are built one atop the other
until it is time to stop. His is not a rhetoric for the mind (like Kennedy's)
or the heart (like Reagan's or Clinton's). It is a rhetoric for the solar
plexus. He speaks in short, guttural moments, delivering thoughts directly
to the belly. Evil Saddam. Evil AIDS. Evil taxes. No words wasted.
George W. Bush is a president for our times with a rhetoric for our times.
But times change. Sometimes rapidly. Wars are won and presidencies lost.
The specter of Dad lingers. Mr. Bush, the younger, must keep pace.
James R. Andrews
George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address was,
as these things often are, a theatrical event. First
came the pre-speech hype. Pundits and reporters, who
tend to embrace the notion that rhetoric is entirely
separate from action, ironically began last week to describe
this as Mr. Bush’s most important speech since
9/11, or the most important speech of his presidency,
or the most important speech of his political career.
The White House described Bush as hard at work on the
speech, conferring with advisers, rehearsing drafts.
Also, the White House joined in with the press and the
opposition to explain what the president had to accomplish.
By the time the speech began, could there possibly be
anyone who didn’t know that the president had to
address the economic crisis and make a case for going
to war with Iraq sooner rather than later?
Then, the setting for a presidential speech to Congress is always dramatic—especially
when this annual presentation coincides with events portentous enough to,
in Lyndon Johnson’s words, summon “into convocation all the majesty
of this great government.” (Although, given the practice of recent
presidential appearances, there must have been a momentary temptation to
remove the flag, the Speaker, and the Vice President and substitute a blue
background with multiple renderings of the slogan for the day, something
like “Saddam is Evil,” or “It’s Iraq, stupid.”)
Given this gilded center stage, an audience that will be (on one side) enthusiastic,
ready to jump to their feet at the slightest opportunity, and (on the other
side) auditors who will at least feign politeness, and armed with a speech
chock full of carefully scripted moments (probably underlined and bolded
in advance copies so that the news media will not miss the appropriate sound
bites) any president would be buoyed. This president, whose self-confidence
is apparently boundless, is at his best in such a situation.
The performance itself began with the promised effort to reassure the country
that domestic problems would be solved, the economy would recover, the environment
would be preserved. If ever the adjectival “mere” was appropriately
affixed to rhetoric, this was the time. The first part of the speech was
a clear demonstration of Rod Hart’s observation of several years ago
that presidential speech is often taken for action—to talk about a
problem is akin to doing something about it. Scholars of language all know
that meanings can be illusive and multiple, but it is hard to accept the
Alice in Wonderland quality of political discourse sometimes. Virtually every
domestic issue was framed in language that belies the actions of the administration.
Calling, for example, for a “healthy forest initiative,” does
not make George W. Bush a tree-hugger, nor does it erase the horrendous environmental
record of the Bush Administration. But powerful is the belief that rhetoric
does matter: presidential strategists seem to be convinced that the elder
Bush fell afoul of the economy because he didn’t talk about it, and
therefore, didn’t seem to care enough about it. So this Bush is determined
to talk about domestic issues to demonstrate his compassion and to project
the illusion of leadership. Beginning the speech with domestic issues appears
to have been in perfect tactical alignment with such a strategy. Much was
made, particularly by the White House and its supporters, both before the
speech and in the spin time, of the fact that the president put domestic
issues first. Well, we might all consider the old primacy vs. recency issue:
does your best argument come first or last? George Bush got through the part
of the speech that was bound to cause most controversy and offer Democrats
the most critical fodder in order to move to the more dramatic, climactic
questions of war and peace.
There was little new in the way of argument in the Iraq portion of the speech,
although more specific data to buttress the assertion of Saddam’s deceptiveness
was offered, and gruesome details of unpardonable actions rehearsed. The
fact that the Iraqi regime is devious and oppressive is not, however, widely
contested. (There have, after all, been regimes--one could mention Chile,
for example--that deserved condemnation but instead received American approbation.)
But the issue, of course, is if and when there should be war. Mr. Bush has
probably succeeded in making the if more and more problematic; he has succeeded
in creating a momentum of inevitability. But he is still left with the why
it is in America’s vital interest to overthrow Saddam, and, of prime
importance, when this should be done. Making this case, it is now suggested,
will be done in the style of a sustained campaign, with Secretary Powell
leading off at the U.N. For now, the president invited us to “imagine” what
could happen—a frightening picture of rampant terrorism that would
dwarf 9/11 (and reminiscent of the dire pictures painted by those who predicted
nuclear holocaust in the 1980’s.) The fear of the possible consequences
seemed designed to counter any rational demand for direct, substantial evidence.
We were all told before the speech that this was a message directed toward
a world, as well as an American, audience. Clearly the message that the United
States would act regardless of world opinion was obvious and doesn’t
need much comment. Nevertheless, it did appear that Mr. Bush made some attempt
to downplay the “cowboy style” of which so many European have
complained of late. There was almost none of the finger-pointing (the implied
six-shooter) and relatively little “smok’n em out” rhetoric—although
a snatch or two could not be repressed, as when, in describing the capture
of terrorists, he added that “many others have met a different fate.
Let’s put it this way: they are no longer a problem for the United
States and its friends and allies.” (Blow the smoke from the barrel
and slip the shooting iron back in the holster.) And, of course, this Texas
Ranger, riding tall in the saddle, the steely glint of determined leadership
in his eye, asserted that “Whatever action is required, whenever action
is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.”
In the aftermath of the speech today, it doesn’t look like skeptical
Europeans are convinced—although they certainly will be evaluating
their own best interests in cooperating with the United States or holding
aloof. And at home, Democrats will recognize and attack the hollow promises
of domestic programs whose strength is only in the positive names given to
them. On Iraq this was likely a speech to reinforce attitudes and beliefs
and not really one crafted to change many minds. Mr. Bush has framed the
time since 9/11 as one in which this country has gone from “bitter
division in small matters to clam unity in great causes.” Mr. Bush
clearly sees himself (and expects the rest of us to see him) as associated
with a great cause that demands unity and will book no opposition. Peace
advocates, he implies, threaten the unity and resolve demanded in this time
when our young men and women are preparing to make what might be the ultimate
sacrifice (always an almost unanswerable appeal). Democrats may turn their
attention to carping about “small matters”-- such as job creation,
unemployment benefits, an astronomical deficit—but the real issue,
the president wants us to believe, is whether we can remain safe, defend
our allies, and carry on America’s historic mission: to be the instrument
through which liberty, “God’s gift to humanity,” can be
Years ago, Dana Carvey did a rendering of George Bush the elder giving a
speech to Congress. In Cary’s impersonation, whenever the president
got bogged down, he would randomly throw in the words, “Gulf War,” to
which the Congressional audience rose as a body and rewarded Mr. Bush with
thunderous applause. The latest George Bush seems bent on the same tactic
to answer all critics and overpower all opposition. “Gulf War!! Gulf
Texas A & M University
I always thought Kenneth Burke went overboard in believing
in the Unconscious, but after this bit of unconscious
self-revelation in Bush's speech last night, I think
I'll change my mind:
"Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great
nations … built armies and arsenals … and set out to dominate the
weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder
had no limit."
Donald G. Ellis
University of Hartford
Bush gave two speeches. One was domestic and the other
international. The domestic speech was routine, formulaic,
and deceptive. Deceptive because attaching tax cuts to
growth is deceptive. As is pretty clear, these cuts will
benefit no one but a few wealthy, and talking about average
cuts is meant to deceive. As one columnist put it, "it
is like sending Bill Gates into the corner bar and then
concluding that every man in the bar now had a net worth
of over a million dollars." The beginning of the
speech stuck to the basic formula of linking one program
with one principle and then claiming support for the
program and principle. Of course, none of this was deliberative
or critical but I suppose we should not expect much more.
The second speech was of course concerned with Iraq and it reached a bit
more eloquence, which is easier when it comes to international affairs. It
was smoother and cleanly organized. There was even a moment or two when some
intensity was rising but this did last long. War with Iraq is what must be
sold to the American people and the President is failing. The average fellow
on the street is not convinced, even if the case can be made. Here is where
Bush needs to speak in a manner he is least able. Here is where he needs
data and convincing argument rather than principled rhetorical flourish.
Perhaps he is holding his fire but this is a communicative mistake. The country
is polarizing and hardening. Those who are drifting away from military confrontation
with Iraq will not be brought back with any one speech, even if it is Powell
in front of the UN. If nothing else, it is all going to be interesting.
Herbert W. Simons
Fortune Cookie: “Purpose of oratory is persuasion,
True of Bush’s speech. Another saying: In time of war, the first victim
Was Bush persuasive? Yes!
1. Well crafted, well organized. Imagine if it had
been re-arranged. After Iraq, domestic front would
have been anti-climactic.
a. memorable language of good vs. evil (melodrama) and of U.S. determination.
b. e.g., Our resolve is firm. Iraqi people’s greatest enemy is within.
2. Bush steady at the wheel. Confident, messianic,
w/o being histrionic.
3. Cowboy persona on Iraq, terrorism, as befits his
substantive message; compassionate, warm on domestic
issues and on aid for AIDS.
Truth? In one sense, yes. He tends to do what he says
he’s going to do. Example: last year’s tax
cuts, mainly to the top 1%. He’ll fight for more
of the same in this go-round. Bush sounds and IS (in
a sense) sincere.
But Bush’s message was dangerously deceptive on both the domestic and
1. Domestic – A. Hope for all re tax cut disguises
disproportionate benefit to the rich: 42% of benefits
to top 1%. Even more so with elimination of the Estate
Tax, says Bill Gates and his dad, head of the Gates
Foundation. B. We achieved historic education reform.
Really? When? What did it include? Where’s the
evidence of change in our urban schools? C. Tax relief
brought US out of recession, said GWB. It did?
2. Int’l – Litany of Iraq’s evil
intentions includes claims that even his own people
have discredited. E.g., Aluminum casings have no value
re nuclear weapons development.
More important than factual inaccuracy is his framing
of the Iraq Invasion controversy.
1. Personification, oversimplification – the
2. Bad history –no mention of his dad’s
role in keeping SH in power; of U.S. willingness to
look the other way as he gassed his own people as well
as the Iranians.
3. No mention of what Thomas Friedman called “The Day After.” What
happens after we’ve knocked SH from power? What’s the scenario?
Does the U.S. impose a new leader by force in the name of democracy? Sounds
a bit contradictory. Do U.S. forces patrol the streets of Baghdad? What
do we do if Kurds in Northern Iraq seize oil rich areas currently populated
by ethnic Turks? What if Shi’ites in the South of Iraq line up with
mullahs of Iran? Suppose Saddam hotfoots it out but leaves other members
of his party to rule Iraq. Do we disqualify them—all 0f them? What
if before he leaves he wreaks havoc on oil fields—his own and maybe
Kuwait’s. Etc. GWB made things too simple.
4. A criticism by Tom Daschle rings true: Administration’s message
on Iraq hasn’t been consistent.
a. Disarm Iraq? Is that the goal? Why? For whom is SH an immediate threat?
And what really is the connection to terrorists – Al Qaida? What’s
the rationale for a pre-emptive attack?
b. Regime change?
c. A first step in democratizing the entire region—Palestinian authority
included? Iran included? (An incentive here for other nations to go nuclear
on an accelerated timetable?)
d. Is this really a fight for bragging rights? We ARE the one and only
superpower. We welcome snipings by the French and the Germans. Proof ultimately
that we can work our will w/o their help.
e. Is this about oil? To run our SUVs? To exercise control over oil-starved
economies like N. Korea and to keep oil-dependent countries like Japan
from becoming too independent?
On balance, a very effective speech. Polls will reflect
it. Media will be muzzled, even more than before. Nothing
succeeds better at mobilizing public opinion than magnifying
an external threat and demonstrating resolve at combating
it. Iraq is also a great distraction.
But GWB is playing a very dangerous game. Huge domestic deficits. Not doing
what’s needed in the way of a stimulus package. Short-term thinking
re Iraq and responding to terrorism is likely to foment further int’l
resentment. High stakes poker, even against our usual allies.
A possibility that buildup of forces together with incendiary rhetoric will
function as a persuasive threat. SH and his ruling party will skip town,
preventing a blood bath. Iraqi citizens will toss sweets to American soldiers
as they ride into Baghdad. Saudis, Turks, even the French and Germans will
fall into line. Would-be terrorists will see that terrorism doesn’t
pay (the Sharon model).
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