State of the Political Theater

I didn’t watch the president deliver Karl Rove’s State of the Union speech. Mr. Rove fooled me once in the 2000 campaign. I don’t give people a second shot.

It was appropriate that the State of the Union speech occurred close to the Academy Award nominations. They are both about theater, make-believe and dishonest hype. The last president to give an honest and substantive State of the Union address was Dwight Eisenhower.

Words are, of course, symbols, hopefully representing something that exists in reality. Words, however, are never the things they symbolize. Thus, the words about ending our dependency on foreign oil are not, in fact, any attempt to develop alternative energy sources. This is the fifth time President Bush has promised to end dependency on foreign oil. Presidents have been saying these words since Richard Nixon. The reality is that our dependency has increased.

You can judge honesty and dishonesty by the use of words. The honest man or woman will use words that as closely as possible correspond to reality. A dishonest person will use words that bear no relationship or only partial relationship to reality. The difference is, the honest person is using words in an attempt to communicate truth; the dishonest person is using words to fool people.

State of the Union speeches have become, like national political conventions, merely political theater — free political advertising, courtesy of network television, that refuses to recognize the reality. The cable-news companies, of course, have to knock the enamel off their teeth anyway, so they love to analyze what is essentially simple deception and a charade. We don’t get an honest assessment of the nation or an honest statement of intentions. We get instead what the spin-masters have decided is a good campaign theme. President Bush wants very much to keep his Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

What’s funny is that if you did believe the speech, then you would have to wonder why so many Americans are worried, unemployed, suffering from bad education and can’t afford health care. To hear Karl Rove’s dummy tell it, everything in America is wonderful, we are winning in Iraq and are winning the war on terrorism.

The Bush administration has created a considerable number of jobs — manufacturing jobs in China and India, and fast-food and janitorial jobs in America. If things are so great, why is Ford laying off thousands, and why is Dell computers building a new plant — in India? And if we are winning the war in Iraq, why is it that in 2005 there were 10,000 attacks with improvised explosives, compared with only 5,000 in 2004? Why can’t we keep the lights on in Baghdad? Or get the oil out of the ground? What’s so winning about religious parties aligned with Iran forming the government in Iraq?

Rove is a master at using language to deceive people. For example, he changes domestic spying to spying on terrorists, and then Bush accuses his critics of wanting to sit back and wait for the terrorists to strike. That is a complete falsification of the issue. Nobody objects to spying on terrorists. The objection is that when spying on terrorists also involves spying on American citizens, then Bush should get a warrant, as both federal law and the Constitution require.

Face facts, folks. This is the most intellectually dishonest and secretive administration in the modern era.

President Bush says he is a religious man, and I have no reason to doubt him on that point. I’m sure that as he ends his prayers every night, he adds, "Please bless Karl Rove and keep him safe from prosecutors, and thank you, God, for timid Democrats, a lap-dog press corps and a too-trusting public."

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

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