Although not quite as slickly eloquent as Willy before him, Dubya, like his predecessor, is proficient and experienced in the art of speaking one thing and meaning another. Just as often, he makes statements more flowery than they have to be, possibly intentionally so as to make what he’s saying sound less aggressive than if you were to cut away the extraneous poetry to reveal the plain meaning of his words. Below are highlights from his State of the Union speech, translated into clear and candid English.
"Every time I’m invited to this rostrum, I’m humbled by the privilege, and mindful of the history we’ve seen together. We have gathered under this Capitol dome in moments of national mourning and national achievement. We have served America through one of the most consequential periods of our history — and it has been my honor to serve with you."
Translation: I’m very important. I rule this great big country at a very important time. I am obviously infinitely more important than you — notice that I’m speaking to the entire country — but I like to pretend that I believe that it’s you who is important.
"In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of goodwill and respect for one another — and I will do my part. Tonight the state of our Union is strong — and together we will make it stronger."
Translation: I haven’t completely forgotten that this is a two-party dictatorship. Settle down, Democrats, go along with my program, and you’ll get your chance again soon.
"In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom — or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy — or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting — yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership — so the United States of America will continue to lead."
Translation: The United States is the most important country in the world. And the government of the United States, which I rule, is the most crucial institution to the future of humanity.
"Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal — we seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause."
Translation: Those of us who live in the United States can’t be safe if we don’t make sure the whole world is free. We tried leaving the world alone, but people came from across the planet to kill us. If the world lived under a form of government whereby the people voted on their rulers, or at least some of them, we’d be safe from the terrorists. It is our job to make the world safe for that form of government.
"Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder — and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder."
Translation: People that I describe as being similar to that man who killed 3,000 Americans want to kill more of you. We must listen to what they have to say, or at least those things they say that I focus on. (When they say that U.S. foreign policy is why they attack us, and that if the U.S. withdrew from the Middle East they would stop attacking, you should not listen to them.)
"Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. When they murder children at a school in Beslan, or blow up commuters in London, or behead a bound captive, the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it."
Translation: When you think about the war in Iraq, I want you to think about foreign terrorists that want to kill innocent people in their own countries. When you think of our troops killing people in Iraq, I want you to think of us fighting for our freedom.
"America rejects the false comfort of isolationism. We are the nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed and move this world toward peace."
Translation: Speaking on behalf of all the people who live in the United States, I have to say that we would never want the U.S. military to stop invading, bombing and attacking other countries. We should be proud of ourselves, since we are the Chosen Ones, destined to improve the entire world through force.
"[W]e’re continuing reconstruction efforts, and helping the Iraqi government to fight corruption and build a modern economy, so all Iraqis can experience the benefits of freedom."
Translation: Not only should you believe that the U.S. government is responsible for economic progress in America, you should believe that the U.S. government, working through the Iraqi government it set up, is responsible for economic progress in Iraq, too.
"Our work in Iraq is difficult because our enemy is brutal. But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, the nation has gone from dictatorship to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds, and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces. I am confident in our plan for victory; I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people; I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning."
Translation: Remember while you’re seeing all the carnage and chaos in Iraq on TV that the people there did not used to be free, but now that the U.S. government has conquered them and implemented a new government there, not only are the people free — they can vote! And if you think that their voting isn’t doing them a lot of good, seeing as how they’re still in the midst of a fledgling civil war and all, well, the answer is to stay the course.
"The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels — but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C."
Translation: I make the decisions around here, and if I want to stay in Iraq, that’s what we’ll do. And if I want to say that my decisions are made by "military commanders," and "not by politicians in Washington, D.C.," that’s also my prerogative, because I am the most important Washington, D.C., politician of them all.
"Our coalition has learned from our experience in Iraq. We’ve adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. Along the way, we have benefitted (sic) from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.
"With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country, and show that a pledge from America means little. Members of Congress, however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in this vital mission."
Translation: Whether or not you agree with me, I took the country to war, and to criticize my policy now that we’re all in it together is to help the terrorists who want to kill you and your fellow Americans.
"Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices — and showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear. They know what it’s like to fight house to house in a maze of streets, to wear heavy gear in the desert heat, to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb. And those who know the costs also know the stakes. . . . Our nation is grateful to the fallen, who live in the memory of our country. We’re grateful to all who volunteer to wear our nation’s uniform — and as we honor our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America’s military families."
Translation: Not only is failing to support my policy helping the terrorists, but it is turning your back on the people who died fighting in the war that you might not believe in, but that you must nevertheless support or else you hate freedom.
"The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election — and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace."
Translation: Egypt, just because you had elections doesn’t mean I’m not watching you. Hamas, just because you won in an election doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Elections are great and worth going to war for, but they are subject to my approval.
" Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity."
Translation: What’s is a democracy, anyway? Well, I’m not sure. I can’t describe it. It might just be a vague abstraction. When in doubt, I’d prefer that we think about it as another word for freedom. Democracy is certainly worth killing thousands of people to establish, but don’t complain if when we establish one it empowers a bunch of fanatics or it does not look at all like you thought it might.
"The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon — and that must come to an end. The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons."
Translation: I will not let Iran get any weapons nearly as powerful as that one kind of which the government I head has thousands. I am willing to pressure other countries to go along with my efforts to stop Iran from having even a thousandth of the killing power I have.
"To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, and fighting disease, and spreading hope in hopeless lands. Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need. We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are sources of terrorism, and organized crime, and human trafficking, and the drug trade.
"In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform. For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Short-changing these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security, and dull the conscience of our country. I urge members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America."
Translation: Not only is the U.S. government responsible for freedom throughout the world, but it is also responsible for solving every problem on this earth, or at least attempting to by spending the money that the American people earn and that the government extracts through force. I take credit for the whole process, calling myself compassionate for my willingness to spend your money.
"It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack — based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute — I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again."
Translation: My being able to do pretty much whatever I want as commander of the United States during war is absolutely necessary to stop you from being killed by terrorists. I have the right to spy on you without judicial review to protect you. I am not the first top official of the U.S. government to see it this way.
“In all these areas — from the disruption of terror networks, to victory in Iraq, to the spread of freedom and hope in troubled regions — we need the support of our friends and allies. To draw that support, we must always be clear in our principles and willing to act. The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world.”
Translation: The U.S. government, which I run, is what keeps the world safe and secure. It couldn’t possibly be any other way.
“Yet we also choose to lead because it is a privilege to serve the values that gave us birth. American leaders — from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan — rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.”
Translation: Great rulers don’t keep their rule to their country alone. Neither will I.
"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources — and we are on the threshold of incredible advances."
Translation: Listen up, lefties. Forget my administration’s ties to the oil industry or the idea that I waged war for oil profits. I’m just as willing as Democrats to channel billions of dollars in other people’s money to new alternative energy special interests, not just the classic old energy special interests.
"Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."
Translation: I’m prepared to take credit for successes nineteen years before they happen.
"Tonight I announce an American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation’s children a firm grounding in math and science. First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America’s most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources. . . . Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs."
Translation: I am the source of the nation’s mental strength, and I will graciously make everyone smarter and more knowledgeable.
"In recent years, America has become a more hopeful nation. Violent crime rates have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1970s. Welfare cases have dropped by more than half over the past decade. Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001. There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.
"These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation — a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment. Government has played a role. Wise policies, such as welfare reform and drug education and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country. And everyone here tonight, Democrat and Republican, has a right to be proud of this record."
Translation: Politicians of both major parties deserve credit for the moral character of the country — at least when it’s positive.
"A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under the law. The Supreme Court now has two superb new members — new members on its bench: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. I thank the Senate for confirming both of them. I will continue to nominate men and women who understand that judges must be servants of the law, and not legislate from the bench"
Translation: I will continue to nominate judges who can be expected to toe the Republican line and allow the executive branch to get away with whatever it wants.
“A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency — and stays at it until they’re back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We’re removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We’re providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.
“In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.”
Translation: The answer to a big problem isn’t just to throw a bunch of tax dollars at it. The answer is a whole new revolutionary spending program along the lines of the New Deal.
“Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others. Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well?”
Translation: Do you believe in slavery? Racial oppression? Totalitarianism? If not, you must support my war and my powers.
“Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom’s advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward — optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come.”
Translation: On behalf of the United States, I pledge to continue dominating the world for the better. Expect more war.
“May God bless America.”
Translation: The government I lead has God on its side.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.