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Message: We're Still the Good Guys

   I exercised my Constitutional right to not watch the SOTU address, but I read the text this morning and am struck that the president felt compelled to remind the citizens of this country that we're still the good guys.

    Ideally this would be a given. Most of us continue to think of this country as a great nation that has historically been a positive force in the world, but it's a measure of how badly things have gone recently that the presumption is in play. Bush took it on directly in his rhetoric. His message: We're in the right. We represent the right values. We can be optimistic. We will win the wars we rightfully choose to fight. We shouldn't flinch. We should believe in ourselves. We should be hopeful. We should be confident.

      "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....

    "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....

    "]T]here 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....

    "Tonight I will set out a better path: an agenda for a nation that competes with confidence, an agenda that will raise standards of living and generate new jobs. Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it....

   "America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society...."

   He then went into a list of items that characterize "a hopeful society," a phrase he used again and again.

    Great Society: Out. Hopeful Society: In. 

    "[W]e move forward optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of the victories to come."

    There's an attempt here, in shaky times, to make Americans feel a little more steady on their feet.

   Perhaps it is naive to take too seriously the philosophical passages of a presidential address, when the rhetoric gets so lofty and dramatic that it really ought to have a choir of angels in the background. That stuff is typically viewed as filler. It's the speechwriter language, devoid of content, designed to just ... sound good. Most hard-nosed analysts prefer to focus on policy initiatives, the framing of important issues, and anything hinting of a change in presidential ambitions. They attempt to interpret the body language, the inflections, the finger-wags and blinks-per-second, searching for some way to measure the president's level of arrogance or humility. ("Solemn, his brow furrowed, President Bush smiled seldom and only winked once during yesterday's State of the Union address," began Alessandra Stanley in The Times.)

    It's a one-man show. He speaks, then we rate the performance. The State of the Union Address has become, inexorably over many administrations, the State of the President Address. But of course it is the Union that matters most. The Union's going to be around for a long time after this presidency is over. We hope.

   [Click here for the text of the SOTU address. Howie gives us the reaction roundup, and points out that the "addiction to oil" portion of the speech did not include any mention of conservation. In Blogworld, David Corn writes, "Here is a partial list of subjects he did not have anything to say about: global warming, wage levels, missile defense, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, genocide in Sudan, torture, the mission to Mars (he promoted in SOTU 2004), the campaign against steroids (he promoted in SOTU 2004), Michael Brown and FEMA, and corporate responsibility." Andrew Sullivan objects to Bush's math. Marc Cooper watched the speech with Hollywood liberals.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 1, 2006; 10:23 AM ET
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