In some ways, this year’s State of the Union address was memorable. President Bush was right to acknowledge the accomplishment of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California in ascending to the post of Speaker of the House, for instance. But besides the niceties and flowery language, this State of the Union was only memorable in the fact that I chose not to watch it.
However, the estimates are that 45.5 million Americans did tune in Tuesday night to hear the president’s remarks accompanied by frequent applause. That certainly leaves many Americans who weren’t watching the shenanigans on Capitol Hill.
Admittedly, such a speech amounts to little approved legislation, but it normally gives me some encouragement that things are all right. This year was different. My personal boycott of the State of the Union address had nothing to do with a partisan dislike of the president as much as a lack of optimism about where the nation is headed.
The ambiguous war on terror has stretched the military to the breaking point, with the only hope now seeming to be some sort of extrication of forces. On both the political and military fronts numerous mistakes have been made, but accountability for them has been sorely lacking.
For example, take Gen. George Casey: He had overseen the war since 2004, was replaced in Iraq, and then nominated to the highest post in the Army – for the swell results he had achieved in Iraq, I guess. Or take Vice President Cheney’s recent response to the comment that war blunders have hurt the administration’s credibility as “hogwash.” I am not sure what war the vice president is watching in his undisclosed location, but it isn’t the one most Americans are seeing.
But my lack of optimism goes further than Iraq and the war on terror. Domestic issues seemed to be forgotten only to be focused on when leaders in Washington, D.C. want to take the heat off foreign policy blunders.
The Gulf Coast is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina 15 months ago. While the federal government isn’t solely to blame, the storm’s path exposed poverty and racial inequality that is a part of many areas around the country. Unfortunately, the calls for a war on poverty after the storm, using New Orleans as a backdrop, seemed like a glorified photo-op more than true action.
But that’s not all. Every politician of all parties are to blame for failing to address domestic issues such as lack of affordable healthcare, equity in access to education and the fiscal curse of hefty entitlement programs such as Medicaid. It is impossible to say the money isn’t there to strengthen these domestic crises when billions are spent abroad. There has only been a lack of will.
But thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope for a return to optimism. While the 2008 presidential race may be heating up too soon, perhaps a candidate can emerge to seize on a desire to tackle these issues. This country needs someone who won’t focus on the past as much as on a way forward for the nation’s future.
Whether Democrat or Republican, male or female, or black or white – for the first time in a presidential election – this country needs a true consensus builder if anything substantive is going to be done in Washington. Some Americans may have thought that was exactly what they were voting for in the midterm elections, but the razor-thin margin of victory in many races only served to show how far the country has grown apart. Meaningful legislative action now will likely take a back seat to the frenzied posturing for the 2008 election.
With the next election cycle, citizens can only hope for optimism to return, and the president won’t be telling a fib when he or she tells us “the State of our Union is strong,” for the sixth time.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.