Not surprisingly, I was quite unimpressed by Bush’s State of the Union. He started with the lie that our Union is strong, and didn’t stop with the lies and half-truths and terrible ironies throughout. The high point was when Bush alluded to his defeat on Social Security ‘reform’ and the Democrats gave him a standing ovation. The rest was Bush’s characteristic jive of taking our highest ideals and traditions and shitting all over them for the low and corrupt ends of his ‘base’.
But I don’t really want to talk about the SOTU. It is never politically significant, anyhow. Most years, Bush’s ratings have fallen following his SOTUs. And while he didn’t drop any real clinkers this year, such as addressing the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, neither did he say anything that will have any resonance or ring true outside his base. What I thought was really interesting was the Democratic Response.
Tim Kaine, the newly elected Democratic Governor of Virginia, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were selected to deliver the Response in English and Spanish, respectively. This selection is interesting in itself. Neither man is a member of Congress, let alone a member of Democratic Party leadership. But between them they represent the broad spectrum of political preferences that are accommodated by the Democratic Party. Kaine’s moderate conservativism and Villaraigosa’s vigorous populism demonstrate that the Democratic is the more inclusive of the two parties. The men show to what national audience is still watching a party in which differences in viewpoint and policy are tolerated, instead of being rigorously suppressed or marginalized. It also highlights recent gains in state and local elections that Democrats have enjoyed, as well as casting Democrats as the party of outsiders, who are not all locked in the beltway, but among the people and closer to the democratic will of the citizens.
I have not been able to find a transcript of Villaraigosa’s remarks (if you find one please leave a comment with a link) (UPDATE: I found it), but I watched Kaine’s speech. His theme was ‘there’s a better way’. This seems like a rather weak-kneed theme, but it is a solidly progressive message. Kaine hammered away on the issue of corruption and competence and expressed confidence that Democrats could deliver results. After so many high-profile failures of this Administration to execute its responsibilities competently, this could be a powerful line of attack in 2006. The Progressive movement of the last century was largely a middle class and small businessman movement against corruption and incompetent administration and did very well mining the vein of impatience with incompetent and corrupt government services. Democrats could do much worse than to make competence a key theme of its return to relevance.
However, such a theme also makes conservatives smile, because it doesn’t really challenge the direction of the country or the basic priorities of the GOP, with which the clear majority of Americans disagree. Nor is it clear that people’s disgust with the Executive’s incompetence will translate into votes in legislative races. Bush’s coattails are limited; he’s a lame duck and his popularity in the toilet. Attacking him might be irrelevant to the district-by-district, state-by-state fights Democrats face to retake the House or Senate.
Certainly, competence and corruption should be key themes, but after so many years in the wilderness, independents may have forgotten how the Democrats vision for America contrasts to the GOP’s. If Democratic leaders avoid creating stark contrasts between the parties on issues such as Iraq, terrorism, America’s role in the world, the budget deficit, taxes, and other important issues, it can only lead to voter apathy, which always aids conservatives at the polls. If we begin to sound too much like Republicans, we may make ‘values voters’ more comfortable, but we won’t necessarily make them vote for Democrats, and we’ll certainly make GOP incumbents more secure.
In a side note: I didn’t realize the extent to which the ‘reaction’ to SOTU had turned the Old House Chamber, also known as the National Statuary Hall, into a full-blown spin alley. What the hell is so interesting about a bunch of pols saying exactly what they are programmed to say that every camera and microphone in DC area has to be there? Officials’ press offices were releasing their reactions half-way through the speech. There is no news here. Our media has become pathologically dependent on being spoon-fed such dreck. They merely regurgitate it for us to lap up. I’m sure that Greenway and Father Kino felt rather ill having to watch so much bloviation.