The State of the Union is Stronger and Better

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tonight, President Bush will attempt to explain away, again, his foreign policy mistakes, and offer the Democrats a few olive branches on domestic issues. While we should all welcome his overtures on important challenges like health care and immigration reform, my sense is that anyone watching tonight will be filled with a profound sense of “what might have been” – of the lives, years, money, opportunities and good will squandered by this Administration.

Looking back, it is interesting to see how our nation has changed from just a year ago. Consider this except from a memo I wrote to all of you on the morning of last year’s State of the Union:

Tonight, the President reports to the nation on the State of the Union. We will hear soaring rhetoric, powerful words, a President resolute and determined. We will hear of victories, progress, and pride. He will tell a compelling story – and very little of it will be true.

The truly compelling story of this decade is one that Bush doesn’t want told – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government. Finally in a position of virtually unchecked power after decades in the political wilderness, modern conservatives have failed quickly and utterly at the most basic responsibilities of governing, leaving our nation weaker and our people less prosperous, less safe and less free.

Seduced by the temptations of power, these movement ideologues also quickly came to believe that the rules of our democracy did not apply to them. The result is one of the farthest-reaching episodes of corruption and criminal investigations into a governing party in our history.

To fully appreciate the State of the Union, we need a deep understanding of the conservative movement and its rise to power. Jumpstarted a little more than fifty years ago by William F. Buckley’s National Review, the conservatives began their long march to power by investing billions of dollars in a modern infrastructure to combat the entrenched position of progressives in government. They used this infrastructure – think tanks, for-profit media, superior and innovative forms of electioneering – to defeat an aging progressive movement, and now have more power than at any time since the 1920s.

In recent years America has learned what life is like under a true conservative government. With near absolute power, conservatives have pursued their agenda with little compromise or input from progressives. The latest chapter of the great conservative story – the Bush years – may have been one of political victories, but it has also been one of disastrous governance. The broad and deep failures of the Bush government should cause all Americans to reappraise the virtue of this grand conservative experiment, recognizing that even after 50 years and untold billions of dollars, they have yet to come up with a true alternative to 20th century progressive government -- which did so much good, for so long.

....The next chapter in the story of conservatism has yet to be written. Will they learn from their mistakes, work with the Democrats, and fashion a bipartisan approach to our challenges? Or do they recede deeper into their fantasies, continue to wage war against all imagined enemies domestic and foreign, and continue down the current path of drift and decline?

It is too early to tell how this next chapter will unfold. We all know which path would be best for America at this challenging time. We at NDN pledge to do everything we can to extend our hand to members of both parties interested in getting past these disappointing years, cleaning up the mess and working together to craft a better future for our nation.

As NDN has written in recent weeks, it is our hope that the sheer magnitude of the administration’s failures will enable responsible members of both parties to wrest control of our government from the conservative ideologues and begin the work of ushering in a more constructive era. NDN and its allies helped to produce successful government in the 1990s. We left the world at peace, the budget in surplus, and the country in unprecedented prosperity. Our hope is that as we lay out a better agenda for our great and good nation, we will begin with the one approach that worked so well in recent years – the governing approach of the modern Democratic Party.

Coming back to today, it is remarkable to note just how much leaders of both parties, and the American people, are fighting to end this disappointing era and usher in a new and better one for our nation. In November, the American people gave much greater governing responsibility to the Democrats, a party that governed responsibly, and effectively, when last in power. They elected the first woman ever to be Speaker, and Nancy Pelosi now stands as the highest ranking woman in the history of American government. On Election Day, Americans supported Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans 54% to 42%, one of the strongest performances by Democrats in any election over the last two generations. And that support continues, with overwhelming public support for the Congressional Democrat’s agenda, and their leaders, especially Speaker Pelosi. In the recent success of the 100 Hours plan in the House, dozens of Republicans broke from the orthodoxy of the Bush years, and supported core Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage and providing funds for stem cell research. At the same time, the President’s polls numbers have hit record lows, and are similar to Nixon’s just before his resignation in 1974.

But nowhere is the rush to repudiate the Bush years more evident than in what has happened in response to the President's “stay the course plus” strategy for Iraq. The Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad, without a clearly defined mission. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group opposed the plan, advocating instead for regional negotiations and an eventual drawdown of troop levels. All leading Democrats and some prominent Republicans opposed the plan, and let the President know prior to his January 10th announcement. The country now opposes this escalation plan by a 2 to 1 margin, and that support is dropping. In a new Washington Post - ABC Poll out this morning, when asked who they trust more to handle our occupation of Iraq, the American people choose the Democrats 60% to 33%.

In the Senate, there is now Republican competition for how to best repudiate their President, with such prominent Senators as Hagel, Warner and Collins all debating the details of what will be a remarkable Senate resolution later this week. In a new interview out this morning, Senator John McCain, the chief architect of the new strategy, publicly rips into Vice President Dick Cheney for his management of all things Iraq. Even in the go-along, get-along House, the new GOP leader John Boehner is asking for reports from the President every 30 days so they can track the progress, or lack thereof, in Iraq.

We should also consider the early start of the 2008 Presidential contest – on both sides – to be another manifestation of the almost desperate need the country has to put the Bush era behind us. Candidates in both parties are racing out there, faster than ever before, and in great numbers. They sense, as good politicians, an opportunity to fill the space left by the Bush collapse. They are quickly deploying a new set of media and technology tools that will bring them closer to the emerging electorate of the 21st century. Along with the new Congress, their voices are defining the next debate, a debate that will be dominated by how to best clean up the mess left by conservatives, and to tackle the many challenges left unmet. This is a debate our network will, I hope, have an important role in shaping.

While we have many years of work and difficult decisions ahead of us, we should take comfort that our nation has taken decisive action that will help us meet the daunting challenges of our time. The American people have wisely repudiated a corrupt and failed governing party, rejected the President’s misguided foreign policy, welcomed a new set of Congressional leaders with fresh ideas and a deep commitment to governing, and encouraged Presidential hopefuls of both parties to jump in early, so their voices can be added to the consequential debates of today.

So, while the nation still faces great challenges, together, we are poised to take the important and difficult steps necessary to meet them. And for that reason alone, the state of our Union is stronger and better than it was when the President last spoke to us a year ago.