State of the State of

State of the State of the Union — Well, I thought the SOTU was pretty good, overall. About style . . . Although I wince at his missteps, I find Bush a compelling speaker. He’s direct, it sounds like he means what he says, and he engages ordinary (not obnoxiously intellectual) people. His moral sensibility comes through clearly, and doesn’t seem especially calculated.

Weirdest but most powerful part of the speech: The litany of torture methods employed by Hussein’s regime, followed up with “If that’s not evil, then ‘evil’ has no meaning.” I liked this. It’s a powerful defense of the “Axis of Evil” line against the bullshit he got for it. And it’s certainly true. Both moralists and nihilists can sign on to the conditional.

Biggest surprise: AIDS relief in Africa. If we’re drawing up a multi-billion dollar bill of goods anyway, this strikes me as a very good thing to do. As far as transfers of wealth goes, this is one that strikes me as having a chance to actually help. It would be even better if some day soon living in Africa is A WHOLE LOT better than dying there.

Second biggest surprise: Hydrogen cars. Well, umm, OK. (I’ve sometimes wondered if government-funded R & D is always a bad idea, but that’s another post.)

War: I found Bush’s rhetoric moving, because I’m susceptible to that sort of thing. I’ll look forward to Powell’s speech to the UN and see if he has something less vague to offer by way of justification. I cannot help but be stirred by the rhetoric of freedom and liberation, and Bush used it to good effect. He’s right. The US is not the people of Iraq’s enemy; their leader is. And deposing Hussein would be liberating for the Iraqis. But I think we’re neither required or permitted to do the liberating. If there’s a genuinely good reason to invade, such as a non-fabricated connection to Al Qaeda, or the demonstration of some credible threat, then I would certainly welcome liberation as a side-effect of proper defense.

Bill of Goods: I hate this pandering shit. But, as Julian notes, Bush’s 20 proposals is better than Clinton’s 104! in 2000.

Bush: I can’t imagine what breeds so much hatred in so many people. He strikes me as a good-hearted, earnest guy with not especially threatening political commitments. If we picked presidents American Idol style, and I was Simon, I’d say something demeaning about his verbal abilities and kick him out in seconds. But he does alright. I just don’t see what there is to loathe.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center