29 January 2008

The Union’s State is: Strong

Posted by Jessica Ball

It’s that time again! Yes, the annual ritual of the State of the Union address, which could be viewed as a time-honored tradition (wherein the President has an opportunity to speak frankly with the nation about its present and future), with utter disgust (since it wastes valuable airtime that could be devoted to the new “American Idol”), as an opportunity for a really hardcore drinking game (“freedom” is a suggested word only for those with a high alcohol tolerance), or (in my case), as a solid hour of talking that alternately makes me want to laugh until I choke and wish that shouting angrily at the television actually had an effect.

There were the usual “our nation is strong” platitudes, appeals to patriotism and attempts to guilt us into approving of billions of dollars being spent on a war that Congress never officially declared, but my favorite bit was when he got to talking about climate change. This, the president who refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because other countries weren’t doing ENOUGH to curb emissions. I.E., we shouldn’t have to do ANYTHING. Ah, the logic. But wait! In last night’s State of the Union speech, President Bush seems to have made a neat little turnaround:

“To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. (Applause.) Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. (Applause.) Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. (Applause.) Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. (Applause.) Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. (Applause.)”

Oh really? The Kyoto accords obviously weren’t good enough for us (although they seem to have been for most of the rest of the world), so we’re going to create our own “fund” (out of what money, might I ask) and an “international agreement” designed for essentially the same thing. Not to mention that this statement included a nice little out:

“This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. (Applause.) The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology. (Applause.)”

In other words, we’ll lead the world in cleaning up the mess we’ve made of it, but if things don’t work the way we like, it’s not our fault that we’re not doing anything to fix the problem – it’s everyone else’s for not agreeing with US. Same old same old – nothing serious is going to get done because not everyone wants to do it our way. It’s the same problem that came up when California wanted to set more stringent emissions restrictions than the rest of the country and was denied permission to do so (twice).

And then there was this gem (earlier in the speech):

“To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on Earth. (Applause.)”

Now, wait. Is this the same president whose administration has repeatedly tried to squelch the climate scientists who were trying to share their knowledge and warn us that we’re in deep trouble? I am of course happy about this statement if it means that there’s a better chance I’ll get my grants funded in the future, but the hypocrisy is absolutely stunning.

Living near DC – and having done that for my entire life – I get really sick of politics in general. But this kind of arrogance (which results in the people in power ignoring what they consider inconvenient and then spinning the resulting disastrous situation to make themselves look good), really makes me mad. But that’s politics; also, I didn’t actually have to listen to the address.

Then again, if you realize that the speech is essentially grandstanding, nothing ever really results from it and no one’s used it to announce anything radical for years, it’s a lot of fun to play “What’s the catchphrase” and speculate on whether the printed copies of the speech come with party-lines-appropriate “Clap here” and “Standing ovation” cues. (I also had a great deal of fun listening to the reaction my mother, an elementary school teacher, had when the No Child Left Behind Except When It Comes To Actually Learning Something Other Than How To Take Standardized Tests Act was mentioned.)

By the way, the word of the day was “empower.”