What makes the prospect of this State of the Union seem more tedious than past ones is not simply that Bush is an old shoe, but that we can no longer suspend disbelief enough to pretend that what he proposes will happen. Last year, we tuned in to find out what the president would actually put forward on Social Security, after five years of listening to him tout his own courage on the issue. We knew he would probably hit all the wrong notes, but as "American Idol" has shown, that can be worth watching, too.
This year, Bush will go through the motions of presenting a legislative agenda, but his real objective will be to kick off the fall campaign. Rove has already tipped his hand that the White House's prime objective this year is to survive the midterm elections. The issues Bush has chosen to highlight are likewise primarily political.
I, Spy: For example, Rove is probably right that by exploiting Democrats' reflexive alarm over domestic spying, Republicans can make sure national security is the political gift that keeps on giving. But that's not an agenda; it's simply using lemons to make lemonade. Even as Bush campaigns against ACLU-card-carrying Democrats, he will be lucky if he can persuade enough black-helicopter-fearing Republicans in Congress to give him an extension of the Patriot Act. His defiant political stand could actually run counter to his legislative interests: it will be hard to reassure conservatives that the administration won't overreach when the president is out on the hustings bragging about his determination to keep doing just that.
In the same way, health care is an election-year staple for the Bush crowd. Back in 1992, Bush's father rolled out an ambitious health care plan that had no prayer of passage, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade voters that he cared about domestic issues. In 2000, the younger Bush promised a patients' bill of rights at every stop on the campaign trail. Yet even when Congress passed a bipartisan plan, he turned down the deal.
Gong Show: We can only hope the White House has some surprises up its sleeve for next Tuesday. Perhaps Bush will show the nation he has learned his lesson in the past year, and do his part to change the tone in Washington by giving Rove his walking papers. Perhaps, as part of his new effort to appear spontaneous and unrehearsed, the president will wrap up the speech early and take questions from the audience.
To spark a real comeback, Bush needs some drama. Luckily, he's in the right time slot. All he has to do is invite Jack Abramoff to sit in the First Lady's box, then rip the man to shreds for betraying the country. Bush might not see himself as another Simon Cowell, but you can't beat the ratings. ... 3:33 P.M. (link)
Monday, Jan. 23, 2006
Still Searching: First Santa, now the Easter Bunny. With conservatives still recuperating from the stress of saving Christmas, the Weekly Standard reports that gay and lesbian family groups are planning to use the White House Easter Egg Roll to spotlight their cause. A spokesperson for the Family Pride Coalition says, "It's important for our families to be seen participating in all aspects of American life." The plan sounds like the famous "Trojan Bunny" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail—except that this time, the organizers might remember to put people inside.
Conservatives consider this a threat to one of their most cherished traditions: politicizing religious holidays. According to the Associated Press, some conservatives want to retaliate by mobilizing straight families "to outnumber gay families at the egg roll" on April 17.
Like most Americans, I don't have an egg in this hunt. The war on Christmas and the war over Easter pale in comparison to more pressing holy wars that should keep us up at night. But I have some advice for gay, lesbian, and conservative activists who want to politicize the White House Easter Egg Roll: You'd better get in line now.
Last month, John Dickerson wrote about the magic of the White House at Christmas. Mesmerized by the twinkle of the season, Republicans and Democrats lay down their arms and enjoy the holiday cheer.