Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Assessing the state of last night's State of the Union

It’s probably very predictable that last night’s State of the Union is going to be addressed here, but credibility would be lost if it were not.

It was clear very early on that President Bush was going to make a very bipartisan speech—he had to, because Congress is now run by the Democrats. His quips about “we have to work together to get things done” may be true, but they came off as very weak.

The problem with bipartisan statements is that the statements come off as very fluffy and light. They’re a nice way of posturing, but essentially, that is it. Nothing gets done when President Bush makes these statements, and last night, he came off not only as apologetic (which he should be) but as weak.

There is a difference between being cooperative and being weak. President Bush is not trying to be cooperative—he never has—he is trying to try and make up for his wrongdoings. He is akin to a puppy who knows he has done wrong and is hiding in the corner, with his tail between his legs, hoping that no one can see him and waiting for his family to embrace him once again.

This works for puppies. It does not work for the president of the most powerful nation on the planet. I am the furthest thing in the universe from being a Bush fan, but I am not a Bush basher—I have grown sick of the way President Bush is insulted based on tiny things that have absolutely nothing to do with his policies—but last night’s display was pathetic.

One of his first major points, about the 13,000 earmarks that cost this country 18 billion dollars a year, was absolutely pathetic. Bush said that we must do away with these earmarks. This was such an easy thing to say. Why didn’t President Bush also say that we must do away with the filibuster, pork barrel politics and “lobbying” (ahem…corruption)? He may as well have. It’s so easy to say these sorts of things, but can we ever really do away with it?

His claim that he has drawn up a plan to get rid of the federal deficit within five years is nice, but how is it going to be done? Too many times, President Bush has the long-term goal and the vision of success spot-on, but he simply did not tell us how we were going to get there. He came off as childish. It’s one thing to wish for a better world and how things should be ideally—it’s another to do all the work involved and actually make it there.

This brings me to the Democrats. I’ve heard that the Democrats have opposed President Bush’s Iraq War strategy since the day the war started, but I have never heard about how they would fix it. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) said that the Democrats want to use “regional based diplomacy” to “take the soldiers off the streets in Iraq” using “a carefully thought out formula.” What does that even mean? The Democrats hate the solution that has been put on the table in front of them, but they don’t really have anything productive or constructive to bring that fixes the problem staring us all right in the face. Anyone can criticize—the Democrats are now in control, and they had better come up with an actual plan and not just some “formula” that seems as cryptic as the one used in the BCS.

President Bush had some nice points—giving money to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria in Africa and using twenty percent less gas in the next ten years. But, President Bush’s focus is just entirely off.

He called for Congress to renew the No Child Left Behind Act, saying schools are getting better. My former high school has been ranked as the best high school in Hawaii for the past three or four years (when the extensive rankings done by Honolulu Magazine started), yet the school is about to be taken over by the federal government because it does not meet “national benchmarks.” The fact is that the school exceeds most of these benchmarks, but fails in one category—the special education kids at the school do not pass the test.

The problem is that Moanalua High School is a large school, and there is a certain threshold that exists within the testing system that states if a school has a certain amount of special education students, these students become their own sub-category. Many schools are too small to have enough special education students to get their own subcategory, and, as a result, these students (understandably) poor results do not give the school a failing rating. Many other large schools in Hawaii combat this by saying that some of their special education students are actually regular students, thus minimizing the number of special needs children on paper and eliminating the possibility that the school has enough students for a subcategory. This prevents the school from having a special education category and subsequently prevents the subcategory from failing, which prevents the entire school from needing “federal corrective action.”

It sickens me that President Bush thinks this system works. When exceptional schools that send students off to top tier schools are said to be failing just because they are large schools, something is wrong. It is astounding that corrective action is needed at a school where teachers are dying to teach at. And when special needs students are hidden among other students just to prevent the school from failing, something is definitely wrong. This act drives schools to lie about the numbers just so that they are not seen as failing. How can this be seen as an improvement? Teachers are only drilling students in things that are on the tests, and are neglecting history, music, the fine arts and science. This is progress?

President Bush also talked about the North Korean problem for all of three seconds. His talk on the Korean Peninsula was a paragraph when it should have been twelve pages. This is a huge problem that is coming to a head, and he had next to nothing to say about it. If they’re on his “Axis of Evil”, how come he couldn’t say anything about it?

The Temporary Workers Program is also laughable. So, the idea is that we make all of these illegal immigrants report themselves, come in, pay for these cards, then leave the country when the card expires? Why would anyone jump through these hoops when they can already work here for as long as they want? It is a noble idea, because it would protect the rights of these workers, but let’s be realistic: Are these “temporary worker card holders” going to be hired for jobs when foremen can just get illegal immigrants who will do the same work for less money? No. Next idea, Mr. President.

The last point I want to touch is that of cultural relativism. President Bush is so bent on making democracy happen in the Middle East. I think democracy is brilliant, and I believe that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in America (or other democratic nations) who does not feel the same way. But we must remember that instilling democracy is instilling an ideal not native to these cultures. Some political scientists argue that democracy is just fundamentally impossible in certain countries—and while I do not believe this is the case, I do think that we have to be less gung-ho about the entire process.

President Bush’s lack of understanding of cultural relativism became apparent when he said that we have to free these people from the system that does not allow them the right to make their own decisions—essentially, ruling Muslim leaders. I would have no problem with this statement if it came from someone other than President Bush, who is on the Christian right and who lets Christian ideology make some of the decisions of where he stands on hot topics. The entire Christian right knows that the justification for their opposition to abortion and stem cell research lies within the Bible—I have absolutely no qualms about this, but neither should they. If you are allowed to be a Christian politician, we should not prevent these countries from letting Islam influence their constitutions. What are these politicians? A bunch of hypocrites ? (...wait. don't answer that)