By Paul Cummins
What is unsaid is often more revealing than what is said. Keats wrote that “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter.” In some contexts, this is certainly true. But in State of the Union addresses it is distinctly untrue. Alas, our president’s Jan. 23 speech was, for my ears, quite unsweet. The unsaid for me spoke unpleasing volumes.
First of all, the president misses the point of alternative energy. He seems to think that it is only an economic issue: We need to “diversify our energy supply,” to “reduce our dependency on foreign oil,” to “step up domestic oil production”—adding, almost as an afterthought, the phrase “in environmentally sensitive ways.” But his discussion of the most critical issue of the planet—global warming—was dismissed in a vague and actionless phrase, “to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” I suppose we should be grateful for small blessings, for at least he finally seems to acknowledge that global climate change is for real.
After this passing nod to the future of the planet, he then launches into his favorite topic: terror. He never once uses the phrase global warming, but he uses the words terror, terrorists and terrorism 19 times. Yep, keep the public scared as long as you can. FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” has been replaced by GWB’s “The only thing I have to offer is fear itself.” So on and on he speaks of Iraq, terror, a new, newer, new plan, defeating the enemy (once we can determine who that is in present-day Iraq) and so on.
Next, the issue of nuclear weapons is narrowed down to preventing Iran and North Korea from having what we have. Nowhere does the president talk of the other—along with global warming—potential catastrophic issue of the planet, namely, nuclear proliferation. Yes, it would be advantageous to stop Iran and North Korea, but how can we possible advocate this in good conscience when the USA wants to develop new nuclear “bunker buster” atomic weapons and to conduct new tests to upgrade our current nuclear arsenal? The real issue needs to be the complete abolition of nuclear weapons, which, if unleashed, could end all life on this planet. A true leader would confront that issue and speak of peace, not only of war. But of course, as usual, the Bush administration wants it both ways: We possess them, others should not. Reason and sanity, however, dictate that no one should have them.
The president tosses out other “compassionate”-sounding phrases, from healthcare for the poor, to eliminating poverty, to care for the elderly. Yet he seems to think this will happen by reducing revenue; that is, he calls for his usual tax cuts. In addition, he would not have been a good Republican if he hadn’t taken a swipe at big government: “Together we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government.” Again, let’s have it both ways: Big government is bad, yet “government has an obligation to care for the elderly.” So how do we do this? Send more troops to Iraq yet cut taxes? Where will the revenue come from? “Balance the federal budget,” increase government services and cut down the size of “big” government? Has anyone ever heard such a ridiculous mishmash of economic principles and realities?
And by the way, the president did acknowledge poverty around the world, but didn’t mention the fact that one in six children in the good old US of A are living in poverty. But of course, if he did that, he would have to offer some plan to alleviate such suffering; and when you are trying to correct a deficit you created, to escalate a war and to give tax cuts to the rich, it is rather difficult to have any funds left over for poor children and families. Yet the president asks us to see this jumble of continuing a blunder abroad, widening the gap between rich and poor at home and ignoring the real challenge of abolishing nuclear weapons as “the spirit and character of America” and as revealing our “courage and compassion.” Hogwash, I say.
AP / Charles Dharapak
President Bush delivering the State of the Union address Jan. 23.