Wednesday, February 1, 2006 — Are any of you feeling a bit dizzy after listening to the president’s State of the Union address last night? In spite of the six-hour time difference here in Italy, which makes watching speeches like this one a gallant effort, I’m feeling surprisingly well — mostly because it’s over.
You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m not a big fan of the yearly pomp and pageantry that repackages what we already know into sound bites that masquerade more truth than they reveal. This knee-jerk repugnance of mine has nothing to do with President Bush and very little to do with the content of his speech. I just feel awkward listening to a one-hour summary of the state of our country (a very complicated thing), aimed more at convincing than informing. With every repeated catch phrase and every “new program” my cynical side stands up and challenges my hopeful nature.
Before writing these few lines to you, I took out a big yellow highlighter and a blue pen and went at the president’s text. I’ve found that, at times, the old-fashioned pen and paper analysis is better than zoning out to political pundits or scrolling through superficial blogs (whoops, this is a blog). As the text in front of me turns yellow and blue under the furor of my writing instruments, I’m reminded of my favorite college football team (M — Go Blue!), but I'm also made to reflect on what the president said and why he said it.
WHAT DID HE SAY?
• Civility in Politics: “…even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone.”
• Tyranny: “Our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world.”
• Terrorists: “Terrorists, like bin Laden, are serious about mass murder and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously.”
• Radical Islam: “Ultimately, the only way to defeat terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change.”
• Economic Stewardship: “Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars.”
• Seniors: “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security, yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away.
• Immigration: “…an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy.”
• Energy: “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.”
• Education: “If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.”
• Bioethics: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life.”
• Public Service: “Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility — and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray.”
• Poverty and Disease: “A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency," and...“acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS.”
WHY DID HE SAY IT?
O.K., I admit, because we need to hear it. Can we honestly disagree that these are good priorities? They may come in superficial bite-sized nuggets, and they may not come with foolproof manuals of how to make them work, but they are good priorities.
Other elements of our democratic system will now take over and argue the best way forward. As we listen to our politicians talk, let’s reflect on what they say. Do they disagree with the priorities that the president has laid out? If so, make them explain instead of complain. Or do they just have a different approach to making those priorities a reality? If so, let’s listen with open minds and open hearts. In these times of historic consequence, our decisions can’t depend on knee-jerk partisan reactions, but on our reflective and hopeful nature.
I’m glad I stayed up. If you aren’t too dizzy, write in and tell me what you think.
God bless, Father Jonathan
Write to Father Jonathan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.