Tuesday evening, President Bush gave his annual State of the Union Address before the joint houses of Congress, the nine members of the Supreme Court, and the free world. He didn’t say anything new, really. He said what he’d been saying all along, for the last three years or so: (1) defend ourselves via the PATRIOT Act and via spreading freedom abroad; (2) the economy is good and we need to help it continue to be that way, so make the tax cut permanent, reduce government spending (especially cutting entitlements), wean ourselves off petroleum -- especially Mideast oil; and improve education (especially in math and sciences); (3) work on fixing Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid before the situation becomes complete, irredeemable crisis -- and set up a bipartisan commission to figure out how to fix the problems (wow. building a committee always accomplishes so much).
He also, of course, spent the first half of his address explaining to the country how we are succeeding in Iraq.
In other words, the President of the United States had plenty of good news to share, and a few fairly good ideas to present. It wasn’t a perfect speech, but it was at least a good one, with civil tone and open humor.
When President Bush was finished , Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia took the stand from his official home, and offered the Democratic Party’s rebuttal. He, too, presented a good (albeit thankless) speech, without the benefit of having a live audience. He sounded as though he were selling Virginia as the ideal state, and, while I admit that I was miserably unhappy with its climate while I lived there, it appears to at least have a functioning government, unlike my home state of Illinois. It almost makes me want to move back to that ol’ salt marsh, such is the “culture of corruption” around here. (Needless to say, when I hear a Democrat rant on and on about corruption and lies, I wonder if he’s been to Chicago, East Saint Louis, or Springfield, any time in the past century or so? Senator Durbin? What’s that I hear? Crickets?) I don’t know, but it looks as though Kaine was promoting his own state for something bigger than just a feel-good moment. If I didn't know better, I'd say he has a Virginian like Warner in mind for the presidency, next term. Or, maybe it’s just that he recognizes that the party -- and the country -- could use a few more bits of good news delivered in a courteous manner.
In counterpoint to Governor Kaine, who had a somewhat dry and unpracticed, yet gentle, delivery for a rational and largely civil response, one Democratic Party Chairman Governor Doctor Howard Dean, M.D. sent out his own rebuttal letter completely undermining the civil tones of his Virginia counterpart. He began with a falsehood -- that old canard about “sixteen words” being a lie -- and then proceeded to “demand answers” which had been given him via the 9/11 commission, via the actual letters to the CIA from Joseph Wilson indicating Saddam had, indeed, attempted to purchase uranium from Niger, and via the more recently released documents and statements indicating Saddam had, indeed, planned to renew his nuclear program. Further, Dean undermines his own party’s credibility on the issue of national defense, if he, as the party’s leader, can’t break from his partisan hackery long enough to get over himself and the lost past, and start contributing to the future of the party and the nation. And, from there, it was one gripe after another, with no fresh ideas to offer, only a stack of largely ungrounded complaints and empty promises.
It seems that the Democratic Party can’t make up its collective mind whether to appeal to the larger voting base by at least pretending to be open to cooperative efforts, or to suck up to its angry extremist internet minority in hopes they will somehow generate something other than noise. While our nation’s Union is on fairly solid ground -- at least, according to both the President and the experts I’ve read -- the Democratic Party’s unity is slipping. They couldn’t even get together over the Alito cloture vote. If they can’t make up their collective, partisan minds about who they are and whom they represent, we are apt to see the party split in two, leaving no real opposition to the Republicans. And, in a system such as we have, with the culture of corruption inside the beltway regardless of party, we can’t afford to create a landslide of power by default. Having them at each other is what keeps them all as honest as they are.
The Democrats need to get their act unified, or we are all in deep, deep trouble.