2006 State of the Union speech
Last night, Prsident Bush gave the 2006 State of the Union speech.
Overall, I thought it was as good a speech as a President could give facing a hostile Congress and a fairly hostile nation. Despite complaints by hardcore conservatives like Richard Viguerie, I thought the President's speech was not one which could have come from Clinton or Carter, and overall I'd give him a B+, with the + coming simply from giving the speech in such a difficult environment.
On the subject of the Federal budget, he made only three points, and they were all important and on target: 1) Balance the budget without raising taxes, 2) Cut the number and cost of earmarks and force any earmark to be exposed to "the light of day", and 3) reform our major entitlement programs.
Numbers 1 and 2 speak for themselves. As far as number 3 goes, I wish he had made it clear that he will not accept an increase in payroll taxes, and the he wanted personal accounts to be part of any solution.
Bush spoke about education and asked Congress to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. Education is clearly an area in which there is no Federal authority, and I believe NCLB is unconstitutional. However, to the degree that we are stuck with it, it was good to see him support "flexibility" for local leaders as well as the right of people to switch out of failing schools. It was great to see the Democrats sit stonefaced at a proposal that every American who is not a member of a Teachers' Union should support.
Next, the President discussed health care. He teased the Democrats by starting with this line: "A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care." But then he made it clear that private health insurance is the answer for all but the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. (I might quibble with him about the elderly in particular, but I'm glad his list of whom the government should take care of was clearly limited.)
Bush's proposal to reform the tax code in order to level the playing field between employers and the self-employed with a personal income tax deduction for purchasing insurance is a great idea. Additionally, the idea of limiting the tax deduction is also very smart, as it will encourage people to buy much more expensive policies than they need. Indeed, one of the major drivers of excess health insurance cost (probably even more than illegals using emergency rooms and other hospital facilities) are laws that force insurance policies to cover many things which insurance buyers would rather not have covered and not pay for such coverage.
The Democrats' reaction to this proposal demonstrates what a good idea it is. Charlie Rangel said "This is a dangerous policy that ultimately shifts cost and risk from employers to employees and could result in a higher number of uninsured." The "could" part of his sentence is meaningless. It "could" just as easily result in a lower number of uninsured. Indeed it is likely to. But the first part of his statement is critical: it shifts the responsibility of paying for and understanding health insurance to the person who actually is being insured. The idea that employers are rightfully responsible for the health coverage of America is something which is all too easily and wrongly accepted. There is no reason, ethical or economic, that an employer should be responsible for his workers' health care. If there are economies of scale involved in group purchasing, that is one thing, but we must not simply accept people demanding that a personal responsibility as important as one's own health is somehow somebody else's problem.
Bush's statements about allowing Association Health Plans (a form of economies of scale) as well as increasing the use of Health Savings Accounts and passing medical liability reform were also all on target. Again, it was great to see the Democrats not clap when Bush talked about the liability reform. The trial lawyers are probably second only to the teachers in terms of their ability to pull the strings of their Democratic puppets.
The President touched on immigration but didn't say anything of real substance, and it was funny to see (at least on Fox News) Tom Tancredo subtly shaking his head as Bush got into this subject.
Bush next moved into a discussion of energy which I didn't love, as it moved too much away from his market-based approaches to most other things, instead embracing ethanol and alternative fuels which the market would already deliver if they were economically sensible. I support his goal of reducing gasoline consumption, but he didn't even give the smallest hint of how we would do it other than changing CAFE standards. I wish he had given one full sentence to nuclear power. In my view, that is the best source of energy for the future despite the time and cost of building new nuclear power plants.
Bush then spend the second half of the speech talking about the war on terror and Iraq. I won't spend a lot of time discussing it because he really didn't say anything new. He asked Congress and the American people to give his "new strategy" a chance to work. And I appreciated his line regarding when we got into Iraq that "whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure."
Bush is absolutely right, and most Democrats simply don't get it, that the war against Islamic extremism (or is that an oxymoron?) is the defining struggle of our time and one we absolutely must not lose. The Democrats
not understanding that is at least as big a risk to our country as their economic idiocy, particularly since it's possible eventually to recover from bad economic policies but it's harder to recover from death.
Bush ended by mentioning a few examples of "courage and compassion" among American citizens, to end the evening on a feel-good note. But, as for me, I'd like to just focus on the last 6 words of the last paragraph, and think about that every time you hear the Democrats or almost-Democrats like Susan Collins talk about Iraq, Iran, or North Korea with suggestions like a big group hug and just getting along.
If there is one thing President Bush does and did explain better than any other politician, it is the true importance of the war we are in. I only hope the public realizes it before electing someone like John Edwards or Barack Obama or Hillary "what do the polls say I should belive" Clinton.
All in all, President Bush gave a mostly-fiscally-conservative speech and re-emphasized some truly important precepts, and with only two or three word fumbles and no misunderestimating his audience. B+
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