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Bush, Beamer, and being serious

Posted by Richard on February 1, 2006

I watched the State of the Union address, although I was tempted to skip it. The State of the Union speech is always a bit of a drag, since it inevitably includes a laundry list of new initiatives and spending proposals. This time, at least those were fairly modest as such things go.

National security and international relations were still center stage, and as usual, I found Bush’s vision and commitment compelling and admirable. I believe if someone undertook a count, they’d find that G.W. Bush has uttered the words liberty and freedom far more often than any other president. In the context of foreign policy, overwhelmingly more. Once again, Bush articulated the message of R.J. Rummel that democracies don’t start wars or threaten their neighbors, and that advancing liberty is in our best interests (from White House transcript):

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal — we seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.

But for me, the defining moment of the speech — the episode that shone a clear light on the President and his opponents — came much later, when he addressed entitlement spending:

This year, the first of about 78 million baby boomers turn 60, including two of my Dad’s favorite people — me and President Clinton. (Laughter.) This milestone is more than a personal crisis — (laughter) — it is a national challenge. The retirement of the baby boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices — staggering tax increases, immense deficits, or deep cuts in every category of spending.

Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security  — (applause) 

The transcript notes applause — it was both more and less than that. Only the Democrats reacted, and they leapt to their feet, applauding and cheering. NBC showed Sen. Clinton reacting with joy and laughter. The entire Democratic congressional delegation and all their staff and friends celebrated their inaction on the Social Security problem. 

Bush waited for them to quiet down and be seated, and then continued:

Yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away.  And every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.

Do the Democrats really believe that contrasts such as that one benefit them? Over and over again, whether it’s national security or the entitlement crisis or what have you, they demonstrate that they’re not serious. Bush shows that he is.

Speaking of being serious: after the speech, I switched to A&E and watched Flight 93. It’s a story we’re all familiar with, and we all know how it ended. But I found it compelling and moving and riveting. This is no hagiography to larger-than-life heroes — it’s presentation of the events is straightforward and relatively low-key — and it’s all the more powerful for it. I’m an atheist, but when Todd Beamer and Verizon call center supervisor Lisa Jefferson spoke the Lord’s Prayer together just before Todd and the others attacked the cockpit, I wept.

"Let’s roll" was spoken firmly, but without bravado, and I didn’t cheer — but I set my jaw and unconsciously tensed in anticipation, as if hoping and wishing for success. I suppose, in a sense, success is what we got.

At the end, I was completely emotionally drained, but I’m very glad I watched. I only wish there had been fewer commercial breaks — on the other hand, as draining as it was, I can only imagine what watching it non-stop would be like.

A&E is airing Flight 93 several more times this week. I strongly recommend it. I wish every American would see it. You can sign up to get an email alert when it becomes available on DVD.

A&E encourages you to visit, which actually takes you to a National Park Foundation donation page for the Flight 93 memorial. But before contributing, you may want to see what you think of the memorial design, which may or may not yet be finalized.

The original design (by anti-war architect Paul Murdoch) drew a firestorm of protest when people noticed a close resemblance between its "Crescent of Embrace" and another well-known crescent symbol. Michelle Malkin has lots of info and links — start here for recent news about the removal of the crescent. Or check out this NPS newsletter (PDF) for the current crescent-less "just a hole in the ground" design.

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