Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of the Union: Bush sees his shadows

President Bush is a confident groundhog, if no longer as cocky. The president's State of the Union address this evening, on Groundhog Day, saw the president seeing his own shadows, past, present and future.

Bush's past shadow: the cocky, young gunslinger, the smarmy suck up oldest son of the father George, the "dead or alive" guy, trying to live up to his father's tinny expertise and rather shallow shadow. That was the vengeful Bush. That Bush had two main "enemies" supposedly shadowing him - Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, both notably absent from tonight's speech. Mr. Bush would like to move beyond a whole host of skeletons in his closets.

Bush's present shadow: In the startlingly subdued wake of the Iraqi election (almost all quiet on the Euphrates front), and in spite of his crinkly and quixotic facial expressions that seem to bely Mr. Bush's nervy insecurity, the president seems more self-assured than ever before. He still pronounces "nuclear" "nucular," but otherwise, he can obviously pass for commander in chief with a majority of Americans, if not a majority of our allies. Mr. Bush kept VP Cheney right where he wants him, and he is finally getting the cabinet he wants as well, with no one to outweigh him. He is at last truly coalescing his forces at home, if not quite abroad. Bush's present mirrors tend to hang out in a hall of mirrors/spectres and a house of fiscal cards - wanting us to live without fear and yet to fear fear itself, and meanwhile to take on faith the future health of a nation hanging on the cliff of his coalition's political and fiscal audacity. This is an administration smart enough and conniving enough to create the "crises" it needs when it needs them (whether a war on terror or social security). That connivance is quite a skill, albeit sinister.

Bush's future shadow: Of course, the one word for that future shadow is that forward-leaning urge of the lame duck: LEGACY. Mr. Bush would obviously like to temper the raw edges of his early days, and he would also like to make not only palatable but attractive his administration's aggressive goals to downgrade and even dismantle many of the social services and federal protections a vast majority of Americans would prefer to keep and not only keep but increase and strengthen. Bush's future shadow shades the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, democracy in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq of course.

Bush's strongsuit is now the same as what carried his through the troubled waters of two tough campaigns - certitude. With all of their altruistic eloquence and nuanced agendas, the leaders of the Democratic Party just aren't able to match the fortitude and force of Mr. Bush's certitude. But then Bush's strongsuit could be seen as the emperor's "new clothes," meaning the same old empty suit. Will the historians a decade from now be the first to see how naked this president really is? He'll need to keep his cards in his cloak, or things could stay very chilly.

Mr. Bush saw all of his shadows tonight, and so it looks like for progressive values, we're looking at at least four more years of winter.


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