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The trap


I've described the State of the Union address previously in this space as a "themeless pudding speech," a statement about everything and consequently about nothing.

Last night's exercise proved to be no exception, although—like last year's speech—it had a spontaneous moment that viewers are unlikely to forget.

It occurred when the President delivered the line "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security …" and the Democrats spontaneously burst into applause—only to be admonished as the President 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." (The second half of the sentence, of course, was greeted with thunderous applause from the Republican side of aisle.)

President Bush couldn't have asked for a more vivid illustration of his assertion earlier in the speech:

There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.

The Democrats couldn't have done anything to better reinforce their image as "nattering nabobs of negativism" (Bill Safire's wonderful phrase) than they did with their self-congratulatory applause.

The President set a brilliant rhetorical  trap, and his opponents, predictably, took the bait.

Hindsight isn't wisdom, of course, but it does make you wonder whether the President's seemingly-quixotic initiative to reform Social Security last year wasn't just a ploy to expose the Democrats' lack of any recognizable political agenda (apart from reflexively attacking Republicans).

Or am I—like the Kos crowd—giving Karl Rove way too much credit here?

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of Democratic responses, I did dutifully try to watch Governor Kaine's. But I never quite got past the roving eyebrows.

UPDATE: Reaction to the Democrats' applause from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman here. Reaction from the left here: "The Democratic Party’s one and only shining moment last night. It was great to watch." Whatever.

Posted by Rodger on February 1, 2006 at 11:49 AM | Permalink


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