Former Republican Congressman, founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and national chairman of the American Conservative Union, Mickey Edwards is the author of Reclaiming Conservatism: How A Great American Political Movement Got Lost- and How It Can Find It Way Back. Last night, Edwards attended the State of The Union address and below he shares his reactions. Read Edwards other OUPblog posts here.
To hear White House spinners tell it, George W. Bush has no intention of drifting quietly into the night. Much to do. Still driven. That sort of thing. And perhaps I might have believed it if I had missed the President’s State of the Union speech Monday night. Sadly, I didn’t; I was, in fact, in the House chambers, where I have watched some 20 previous such speeches. Fortunately, there is a pattern to such events, a ritual that involves standing and cheering whenever anybody of note enters the chamber – members of the Senate (that House members cheer for them is proof of how ritualistic, and meaningless, the ovations really are), members of the Cabinet, members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the Supreme Court, and . . . the President, for whom the tradition requires sustained applause at entry, sustained applause at podium arrival, sustained applause at the Speaker’s formal introduction of the visitor from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
I emphasize the procedure because it serves the purpose of keeping one awake, which was necessary as Mr. Bush droned clumsily on, stepping on his own few applause lines, working up real passion only when it came time to hector the 535 members of Congress whom the President clearly considers his subordinates (at one point, urging Senate confirmation of his judicial nominees, his challenge included these words: “On matters of justice, we must trust the wisdom of our Founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says,.” which of course caused one to wonder whether he understood that the Founders also envisioned Presidents who understand that the Constitution means what it says.)
At the end of the nearly hour-long address (it can hardly be called an “oration”), a senior House Republican turned to me and said, “Maybe now his approval ratings will go up to 32 percent”. I mentioned to another Republican, a member of the party’s House leadership, that Republicans in Congress had seriously damaged their credibility by acting as though they were merely members of the President’s staff. After an initial attempt at sounding hopeful (“we might still be able to pick up a few of their seats”) he fell back to an attempt at reassurance: it’s not likely to happen again soon because it may be a while before the country again sees a Republican President with a Republican Congress.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the House chamber, accustomed to seeing every event as a part of a continuing political warfare (partly the continuing fall-out from Newt Gingrich’s divisive legacy) alternately sat silently or stood to cheer as parts of the message dovetailed with their own campaign themes, but in the end, when George W. Bush walked out of the Chamber, few seemed sad to see him go.