The Speech To End All Speeches

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latest State of the Union Address, praised to high heaven in the
usual places, is eaten up with unconscious humor and layer upon
layer of possible meaning. This suggests that the speechwrights
came dangerously close to genuine self-awareness.
But as we are in parlous times in the land of the theoretically
free and home of the mechanically brave, I thought it might be worthwhile
to point out some of the more striking instances.

in every pot and something for every Trot fill out the wide, open
spaces of the speech. Following the customary introductions, the
President intones: "America this evening is a Nation called
to great responsibilities. And we are rising to meet them."
US forces, he said, "are bringing hope to the oppressed, and
delivering justice to the violent," thereby "making America
more secure." All sorts of "vigilance is protecting America."

State Light, I guess. We are now quite safe from hearing lethal
words in our airports. This is all very reassuring, even
more so when Bush II lets on that, "[o]ur greatest responsibility
is the active defense of the American people."

course it is a pity the US government doesn't find that simple activity
very interesting.

his claims of defending us by attacking a nasty, but suitably weak
and unthreatening state thousands of miles from the much-mooted
Heimat, er, Homeland, Bush II warned that, "it is tempting
to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable,
comforting – and false."

course it's false, because the current Administration is hellbent
on actively finding and creatively new enemies for us. Hellbentness,
to coin a word, is their middle name.

next asserts that, "we must continue to give homeland security
and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us."
What? Chainsaws? 3/8" variable speed/reversible drills? Universal
metric socket wrenches?

continues: "Key provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire
next year." There was some cheering from his audience at this
last point (must have been Democrats), and rightly so. Not amused,
the Prez called for renewal of this social nationalist Enabling

larger purpose to his administration's policies, Bush says, "[a]s
part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the
regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them
with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The United States
and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of
this ultimate danger."

we have something! This is the very model of administrative convenience
and efficiency, something you would expect of these frugal, economizing
Republicans. Under this proactive plan, all they have to do is walk
a few blocks from the White House and arrest any number of people
who have harbored and supported terrorists. They might start in
that five-sided labyrinth they have up there.


Bush tells us how US conquests are creating a better world: "Businesses
are opening, health care centers are being established, and the
boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school."

in school" — the true American's test of progress, as that
notion is understood in Greater New England.

is a spot of trouble, however, in Iraq because, "[h]aving broken
the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters.
Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and
attack from the shadows."

it was very cowardly to run away from all that unrelenting
air power and Shock and Awe. They should have stood there and become
"pink mist," to use a clever US military bon mot.

the other hand, "[o]f the top 55 officials of the former regime,
we have captured or killed 45…"

raises a few Geneva Convention problems, but they are not worth
mentioning. It also confirms that no matter who the US is currently
fighting, the leadership falls into Lincoln mode and imagines that
unconditional surrender is the only conceivable, acceptable outcome.
"Have you found Jefferson Davis yet?" asks Bush, forgetting
which war he is in. "And what about Kirby Smith? And Tojo?"

things are working out: "Last January, Iraq’s only law was
the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with
the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of

mind that Iraq had a constitution of sorts already, and if
anyone objects that it wasn't being followed to the letter, how
much worse were the Iraqis doing, constitutionally speaking,
than we are in the Homeland?

US efforts in Iraq will succeed, because "the United States
of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins."

we will never be intimidated by foreign thugs; homegrown
ones may be another matter.

killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom."

refrain from explaining that this sentence could be taken several

the form of Libya, the administration has racked up another success.
Thus Bush: "And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective,
words must be credible – and no one can now doubt the word of America."

no one may now doubt the word of America, or credit the sanity of
its leaders.

to the imminent ////// ["imminent" redacted] threat posed
by North Korea, Bush states that "America is committed to keeping
the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s
most dangerous regimes."

the Lord! Unilateral US nuclear and chemical disarmament at last…
Dazed, I imagine the next part of the speech… "I know it will
not be easy for our fellow citizens, of all racial creeds and religious
colors, lined up under their crosses, Stars of David, or crescents,
who have become dependent on employment in our facilities having
to do with u2018weapons of mass destruction-related program activities
and significant amounts of equipment' but rest assured that this
administration will provide for the retraining of all such citizens.
We will leave no munitions worker behind…"

he didn't really say that, and we are getting ahead of ourselves
with the internal quotation.

his critics, the President points in the general direction of WMD
in Iraq: "We are seeking all the facts – already the
Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related
program activities and significant amounts of equipment that
Iraq concealed from the United Nations [italics supplied but hardly
necessary]. Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass
destruction programs would continue to this day."

and in time Hussein's "program activities" might have
risen to the level of a sketch and a memo.

big word-clump, "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related
program activities and significant amounts of equipment," is
so awful that one suspects the Pentagon, where English is not much
spoken, had a hand in it. The phrase works slightly better in German,
however: "Dutzende von mit Massenvernichtungswaffen in Zusammenhang
stehende[n] Programmaktivitäten und signifikante[n] Mengen
von Ausrüstung."1

(of the English): We don't need no stinkin' weapons of mass destruction
to justify our elective war.

answering his critics, foreign and domestic, Bush II asserts that,
"America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security
of our people."

is good news. If the US government should ever undertake to defend
America, this principle will come in handy.

in a good word for democracy in the abstract, Bush says, "I
believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in
freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades,
it will rise again."

George, don't let any Americans hear that.)


the good news keeps on rolling in: "To cut through the barriers
of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast
services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian –
and soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable
news and information across the region."

news for FOX, I say! But can the rather dim loudmouths who work
for that network learn Arabic? Only time will tell.

assure US victory in the Soviet-style agitprop campaign, Bush promises
to "send [Congress] a proposal to double the budget of the
National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the
development of free elections, free markets, free press, and free
labor unions in the Middle East."

all the "focus" business and the "free" this
and that, what this means is more money for Neo-Cons! It's only
a few million, but then there aren't that many trough-worthy Neo-Cons,
so they should do quite well.

world-saving speech would be complete without the following: "America
is a Nation with a mission – and that mission comes from our most
basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire.
Our aim is a democratic peace – a peace founded upon the dignity
and rights of every man and woman."

A mission but no empire, together with "democratic peace"
— the typical Neo-Con package deal, take it or leave it.


sections of the speech touching on the economy can be summarized
in Western Swing: Housing's up and inflation's level, plough
my corn with a double shovel…

pursuit of explicit provisions of Article Whatever, Section Something
of the 18th-century shopping list, Bush promises to float
our boats while draining the swamp. Jobs for the masses! Shoes for
the dead!

administration's petty bourgeois constituency is rewarded, as always,
with strong verbiage: "Our agenda for jobs and growth must
help small business owners and employees with relief from needless
Federal regulation, and protect them from junk and frivolous lawsuits."

them eat words – about free markets. It's a safe diet. The words
have no content and, therefore, no calories.

comes the Open Door, a favorite since 1898: "My Administration
is promoting free and fair trade, to open up new markets for America’s
entrepreneurs, and manufacturers, and farmers, and to create jobs
for America’s workers…."

bookkeeping and the Devil will do for the rest.

also fixes immigration and sets the stage for a health care pseudo-privatization
boondoggle of epic proportions.


waxes social-philosophical: "The values we try to live by never
change. And they are instilled in us by fundamental institutions,
such as families, and schools, and religious congregations. These
institutions – the unseen pillars of civilization – must remain
strong in America, and we will defend them."

wordsmiths have been cribbing from Tocqueville again — a standard
Neo-Con diversion.


proposes to save the children: "Drug testing in our schools
has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight I
propose an additional 23 million dollars for schools that want to
use drug testing as a tool to save children’s lives. [It's only
money!] The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them
this message: We love you, and we don’t want to lose you."

course, and if the little bastards test positive they can go to
our famously Third World prisons… And if the testing doesn't accomplish
enough, we can have more raids on high schools by police with guns
drawn. There is no greater love than that.


that nothing is beyond the scope of federal concern, Bush says:
"To help children make right choices, they need good examples…
So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches,
and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough,
and to get rid of steroids now" (italics supplied).

steroids? Who writes this stuff? Is this supposed to appeal
to the Red Map People?


or not there is any constitutional warrant for it, Bush takes a
firm stand on sex: "We will double Federal funding for abstinence
programs, so schools can teach this fact of life… All of us – parents,
schools, government – must work together to counter the negative
influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our

government exists to tinker with "the culture" is the
standard assumption of social engineers. We expect it from the Left.
The Republicans, bless their hearts, have discovered Herbert Croly.

administration proposes to save marriage, rehabilitate ex-convicts,
and make ketchup flow out of the damned bottle. There is little
doubt that these things can be done. This is America, you know.

Or as Bush puts it: "By our actions, we have shown what kind
of Nation we are."

kind of Nation we are — one hesitates even to begin… It doesn't
matter anyway. Everything is under control because "all of
us here in this great chamber will do our best to keep you [that
would be us] and the rest of America safe and free."

a relief. We wondered what they were doing in Bedlam-on-Potomac.


fellow citizens, we now move forward, with confidence and faith.
Our Nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve is right,
because it is the cause of all mankind" (italics added).

reads like a direct allusion to Vice President Hubert Humphrey's
campaign book, The
Cause Is Mankind
(1964), which was a testament to domestic
social engineering and aggressive Cold War liberalism. Neo-Con speechwriters
really miss the openly warmongering wing of the Democratic Party.

now, things have gotten fairly cosmic, and with all mankind in the
balance, Bush begins to resemble Napoleon as portrayed by the Count

emperor will soon conquer the world and give it laws…  when
the war has come to an end the sciences will become the exclusive
object of his attention… on the basis of reasoning and observation
he will found the general principles, which will forever serve as
guides to humanity…  The Legislator…  the most transcendent
genius that ever made its appearance to give laws to mankind…
It was necessary that he should unite all powers in his hands…
The Emperor is the scientific chief of mankind, as he is its political
head. He holds in one hand the unfailing compass, and in the other
the sword which exterminates all opponents of the progress of enlightenment.”2


speech is further proof, were any needed, that the old party lines
have broken down. Where once the GOP preferred the warfare side
of the welfare-warfare state and left the Democrats to work the
welfare side, the GOP now works both — overtime. The weakness of
the Democratic response to the speech reflects their commitment
to the welfare side of things, which goes along with a tepid, slightly
less imperialist position on foreign affairs.

says something about the actual state of the union that the real
situation of the country was hardly addressed in a speech of that
title. Another thing emerges nicely from the speech: official
discourse ostensibly related to US foreign policy need have no factual
content whatsoever. No facts on the ground about "enemies"
real or imagined need to exist, be discovered, or be shown as discovered
— no "yellow cake," no real WMD, no nothing. This arises
from the peculiar circumstance that US foreign policy, as an ideological
phenomenon, is almost entirely about "America" — our work
ethic, our sacred institutions which have preserved our freedom
(which is why we have so much of it these days), our deep moral
rightness, our World Mission, and so on.

is no "engagement" with reality, so to speak, but as they
peddle these nostrums to a people traditionally rather uninterested
in the rest of the world, our leaders are happy to accept compliments
from coalition partners who accept, or pretend to accept, US leaders'
delusional portrait of their purposes and merits.

Democrats' responses to the State of the Union Address zeroed in,
if even that can be said, on precisely the wrong thing. Overly focused
on Latin etymology, a Democratic spokesman managed to attribute
"isolationism" to the Republican leadership because the
policy of preemption has left the US "isolated" in the
world. Nice try, bad pun.

little real isolationism would be a wonderful thing right about

of course want to get back to their version of interest-group politics
as quickly as possible. Republicans point ominously at this fact
and announce smugly that they are saving us from this terrible fate.
They are saving us from it by devising their own version of every
Democratic initiative at the same time that they embark on the insane
project of "invading the world," to use a phrase of Murray

worry. We can afford it. We're America.

the standpoint of apparent politics-as-usual, this arrangement is
perfect. But politics may not run along "as usual" for
much longer. The Republicans' Neo-Conservative commitment to empire
will see to that.3


  1. Mark Pitzke,
    "Rede an die Nation: u2018It's Bush Time,'" Der Spiegel
    online, January 21, 2004.
  2. Quoted
    in Ralph Raico, “The Despotism of Democracy: Review of J. L.
    Talmon, Political Messianism,” Intercollegiate
    Review, 1, 1 (January 1965), p. 41.
  3. See, for
    example, Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire (London: Verso,

23, 2004

Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
] is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at
the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and a columnist for
and See his War,
Peace, and the State

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