I tried to watch the State of the Union Address from a Washington hotel bar last night, but could barely hear it through the noise of drinkers who were completely ignoring the tube. And the fact that even in Political JunkieLand, people were ignoring the speech, probably tells you everything you need to note about the impact of this SOTU.This is at least the second SOTU in a row where the White House kept signalling in advance that Bush was going to unleash some big, meaty domestic proposals. Instead, we got a sentence on climate change, a vague endorsement of better fuel efficiency standards, and a content-free call for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. The one interesting idea in the speech–for limiting the tax subsidy for Cadillac employer-sponsored health plans and using the savings to subsidize health insurance for everyone else–was offset by dollops of the usual conservative pablum about Health Savings Accounts and medical malpractice lawsuit limits.I admit my attention was wandering during the Iraq sections of the speech, but I heard enough to wonder why the White House thought that repeating the same arguments Bush made during his recent prime-time speech on the subject was going to work any better than it did the first time around.Most of all, the speech reminded me of that moment back in 1995 when Republicans were calling Bill Clinton “irrelevant.” It didn’t turn out that way for Clinton, but it’s increasingly true of Bush.If Bush was largely wasting his breath, Jim Webb’s Democratic Response to SOTU was truly a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual pallid laundry list of Mark Mellman’s poll-tested bromides about work that works for working families, Webb focused on the two overriding points of difference between Democrats and Bush–the economy and the war in Iraq–and kept his arguments clear and simple. I was particularly impressed by his repeated efforts to turn around the central rationale for Bush’s war policies, arguing that the war in Iraq has been a damaging distraction from the broader war with jihadists, not its central theater.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I’m certainly old enough to remember lots of these pre-election “agenda” documents, and couldn’t help but mock the latest one at New York:
In Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 cult novel The Crying of Lot 49, a character who has taken too much LSD decides that if everyone on earth repeats the marketing phrase “rich, chocolatey goodness,” it will represent the voice of God. With or without drugs, a lot of people in politics have a similar delusion that getting candidates to make the same noises like chirping cicadas will produce electoral victories. It’s a particularly strong belief among congressional Republicans, who share the dubious conviction that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” is what flipped control of Congress in 1994.
With the assistance of Gingrich and former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the House Republican Conference has released a new “agenda” document, entitled “Commitment to America.” The document, clearly designed for online consumption, has lots of bells and whistles and factoids about the hellish reign of Joe Biden and his “Democrat” Party. What it doesn’t have is a whole lot of specificity, unlike the unfortunate “agenda” that Republican Senate Campaign Committee chairman Rick Scott released earlier this year to the near-universal horror of his colleagues, who don’t want to be identified with the proposed sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare.
The relatively anodyne character of Kevin McCarthy’s pet project doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Candidates mouthing the approved pieties will presumably not be expressing their pithy views on Jewish space lasers or repeating QAnon slogans.
Still, it’s hard to take seriously an agenda for the nation that does not mention climate change, Russia, or extremist threats to democracy — or one that suggests the sole cure for inflation is to cut “wasteful government spending” without explaining what that means (in the indictment of Democrats that accompanies the agenda, there is much criticism of direct stimulus payments, which Donald Trump preferred to virtually every other form of government spending).
Most interesting was how House Republicans handled a red-hot issue they dare not ignore completely, given the obsession it commands among a very big chunk of the GOP party base: abortion. You have to look pretty hard to find it, nestled as it is under the unlikely heading of “A Government That’s Accountable,” and the downright misleading subheading of “a plan to defend America’s rights under the Constitution.” And it simply says Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” So they checked off a box for anti-abortion activists in the manner least likely to draw curious or unfriendly attention to the extreme abortion views so many of them have expressed, which don’t poll well. Perhaps voters will be too mesmerized by the overall party message to notice. Repeat after me: rich, chocolatey goodness.