State of the Union

Our union, intended as the felicitous conjoining of disparate states into one cooperative congregation of like-minded souls, is badly disjointed, fractured and splayed worse than perhaps any time in American history since the Civil War. The last presidential election cleaved the country into two: those who endorsed the antics of George W. Bush and those who did not. The former group seemed composed largely of evangelicals and rich folk; the latter seemed offended, even hurt, that their fellow citizens could be so foolish as to re-install a man who had proved indubitably that we was not the right man for the job. And now here we are, the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of civilization embroiled in a war (an “insurgency’?) that we cannot win, our economy seemingly ready to implode with every upward spike in the price of oil, our air and water despoiled by our rapacious appetite for speed and power.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Last night, our dear leader, who, we must emphasize once more, was duly elected by his fellow Americans — that is, if you don’t buy the rather convincing conspiracy theories coming out of Ohio, where the balloting was irregular at best — assured us that all is swell. More or less.

While acknowledging that decent people can have different pints of view, near the top of his speech the President urged us to respect one and other, to show civility when debating instead of fostering divisiveness. This was a ready-made bipartisan applause line, but it’s hard to take seriously coming from a man who had the gall to allow his minions to call into question the military heroism of his election opponent, John Kerry, thereby deflecting attention from his own absence of military service. Indeed, Bush’s sophistry last night was something magical to behold. Without saying so explicitly, he managed once again to spuriously link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks; he subtly renamed “illegal domestic spying,” transforming it into “terrorist surveillance act”; and, while enumerating the progress that democracy has made around the globe, he managed to slip Iran into a list of totalitarian dictatorships, despite that country’s regular elections.

The absurd disconnect between words and deeds makes one think Bush and his speechwriting cronies are either badly deluded or irretrievably addicted to mendacity. “We are winning!” he announced, capping off his account of the miasma in Iraq. If this is so, many Americans can’t imagine what losing would look like. The concept of “taking the fight to radical Islam” is one that resonates with many Americans weaned on football and homespun homilies. But if this is really so, why, post-9/11, did our country invade Iraq instead of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Lebanon, where state-sponsored terrorism is a way of life? There’s a pervasive cynicism in the Bush administration, a devout belief in the power of repetition to sell a falsehood. This tendency reached its nadir with the use of a dead soldier’s family (and last letters) to pervert the meaning of the word “honor.” Who could not stand to clap (and shed a tear) when the President introduced the survivors of a dead youngster, a fresh-faced boy who “heroically” gave his life so that those of us sitting on our couches could stay out of harm’s way?

The mantra of a good salesman is ABC: “always be closing.” The President’s writers prefer a variation, ABS: “always be spinning.” Four years of unprecedented deficit spending twists into four years of economic growth (at unthinkable cost to future generations.) Vietnam II morphs into “we must finish well.” Absconding with civil liberties becomes patriotic. With numerous references to “winning” and “staying competitive” and “keeping our advantage,” Bush’s speech seemed culled from a high school locker room, where the old coach tries mightily to inspire his beaten squad at halftime, knowing that the facts don’t warrant optimism but saying so would just demoralize his kids even more.

The one really revolutionary and inspiring moment of the President’s address was when he acknowledged what many have known for years: that we’re addicted to oil. How strange to hear a Texas wildcatter pledge his devotion to alternative energy sources. And how glorious to think the United States of America might truly start down a new and better path. If only we could have started two years ago, and before thousands of lives were senselessly lost protecting our oil interests.

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