Washington Post associate editor Robert Kaiser took his usual turn answering reader questions after the State of the Union Monday night, and he seemed eager to echo the Post line that the Bush presidency was "out of public support (32 percent approval), out of ideas and out of gas. It is fascinating to me how difficult it is for politicians (and journalists too, to be fair) to say publicly what so many of them readily say among themselves now: this is a failed presidency, one of the most unsuccessful in American history probably."
He also told liberal Post readers that they were right in asking "why should be believe anything we heard tonight?" and asking why the speech was news when "any ordinary person after watching it would turn to his or her spouse and say: ‘Gawd! What a horrible bore.’ He said nothing new and he said it poorly."
No questioner in the chat really came to Bush’s defense, and Kaiser noted speech interest seemed low on the site, that "This is one in quite a long string of chats after State of the Union Addresses. In the past they have provoked hundreds of readers comments and questions; tonight we barely have dozens so far." This was the typical exchange:
San Clemente, Calif.: I don't know what I expected, but it was lame even by President Bush's low standards. A bunch of golden oldies, threadbare phrases from the past seven years. Nothing that anyone believes or even cares about now. What's up with that?
Robert G. Kaiser: We have a president who is out of public support (32 percent approval), out of ideas and out of gas. It is fascinating to me how difficult it is for politicians (and journalists too, to be fair) to say publicly what so many of them readily say among themselves now: this is a failed presidency, one of the most unsuccessful in American history probably. Republicans in Congress say this to each other, but tonight they jump up an applaud like cheerleaders for their team.
Several who have posted questions noted, as I did, the large number of verbal gaffes Bush made tonight--little things, missed words, mispronunciations and such. It made you wonder about his own level of interest in the speech, somehow. He seemed to be making a big effort to look relaxed and confident, but then had these little stumbles. I'm no expert on such matters, but I found it interesting.
I also think it's quite remarkable how good he looks. I'm old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson at the end of his failed presidency; he looked awful (and died quite soon after leaving office.) Physically, Bush looks great, don't you think?
He’s a terrible president, but he looks great. Kaiser was willing to agree quickly with people who found it distasteful that anyone would be so kind as to give Bush a hearing:
Fayetteville, N.C.: In the past seven years, it does not seem that the policies have matched the rhetoric. To the contrary, it seems that we hear one thing in the State of the Union and then the policies offered by the president and enacted by the Congress (controlled by the same party until the most recent election) do not even attempt to accomplish the stated goals. Why should we believe anything we heard tonight?
Robert G. Kaiser: You're right of course. This is not a president with a long list of legislative accomplishments--quite the contrary. Tonight you had the sense that he was reading a laundry list without much real hope that -- with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress -- any of it will actually happen. And little of it will.
It’s interesting that even as Bush tries to work with Democrats to sign "accomplishments" like a Medicare prescription-drug benefit or a hike in fuel-economy standards that the liberal media elite will still refuse to give him credit for those "accomplishments." Then there was the writer who thought nothing in Bush’s speech, or even the fact that he is current president, had any right being defined as newsworthy:
Washington: What say you to the argument that a speech like this defies the conventions of daily journalism? That any ordinary person after watching it would turn to his or her spouse and say: "Gawd! What a horrible bore." He said nothing new and he said it poorly. But your morning paper will make it sound like he committed news.
Robert G. Kaiser: I would say you are on to something.
PS: Kaiser even cited the Democratic think tank/Clinton government-in-exile called the Center for American Progress in blaming the Republicans for rampant earmarking (blame they deserve, but not from big-government-touting journalists):
Washington: Robert, I don't mean to sound flip, but where was the president when earmarks spiraled out of control under the Congressional Republican leadership? I can't think of anything more hypocritical than pointing out bad behavior under the opposition's leadership that you were happy to tolerate under your own party's.
Robert G. Kaiser: You don't sound flip to me. Republicans became masters of earmarking in the years they controlled Congress, passing thousands more earmarks, literally, than Democrats ever had before 1995. Even Bush has promoted many executive-branch earmarks. There is a good analysis of that phenomenon here: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/01/presidential_earmarks.html
It's written by a partisan Democrat, Scott Lilly, former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, but he has hard facts to make his point.
While we're on this theme, note Bush's comment tonight: "American families have to balance their budgets, and so should their government." This from a president who has run up gargantuan deficits -- with the support of Congress, mostly Republican-controlled -- over six years.
This question followed:
New Haven, Conn.: Forgive my ignorance -- but why did none of the Democrats stand when the presidents spoke against earmarks? What is the flipside of this issue?
Robert G. Kaiser: We could go all night on this question. I cannot answer your question, except to note that the Democraats seemed comfortable in their seats throughout most of the speech tonight. For the Republicans to cheer on this point (see above) is just hypocrisy in my opinion.