Responding to Jim Webb's Democratic response
In this post I'll quote the speech and deliver my opinion of each section. After that, I'll write a bit about what I think should have been included.
"It would not be possible in this short amount of time to actually rebut the president's message, nor would it be useful. Let me simply say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans."
Great start. While I think the Democratic response could be used to rebut actual inaccuracies in Bush's speech, I accept that the time they're given is quite short, so it's important to use the time in the best way they can.
It was also a great idea to stick the words "New Orleans" into the speech right at the beginning, to remind the viewers about the worst example of Bush's disastrous leadership.
"...this is the seventh time the president has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the president and his party to bring about these changes."
Sets the Democrats up as the party of fiscal responsibility and good management. An easy win, nothing too radical here. Also, the easy shot at the President's prior divisiveness with the Party.
"There are two areas where our respective parties have largely stood in contradiction, and I want to take a few minutes to address them tonight. The first relates to how we see the health of our economy — how we measure it, and how we ensure that its benefits are properly shared among all Americans. The second regards our foreign policy — how we might bring the war in Iraq to a proper conclusion that will also allow us to continue to fight the war against international terrorism, and to address other strategic concerns that our country faces around the world."
Translation: the President has provided little or no leadership on these two issues, and we plan to take the lead on them. Also, the war in Iraq is actually distracting us from the broader "war against international terrorism." It's a decent construction - let's see where he takes it.
"When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries." [Two Americas? Reminds me of John Edwards.] "Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it¹s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day."
And here's where Webb separates from so-called Centrists like Clinton and Lieberman. He goes right for the wage inequities that truly show how screwed up our capitalist system is. He's not openly calling for class warfare, but he's hinting at it. I like what I hear so far.
"Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them."
He's talking about corporate "free trade". Will he advocate restoring protective tariffs?
"In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace."
He's talking about FDR-style leadership - government that preserves capitalism by restricting its most abusive practices. This is my kind of Democratic talking point.
"In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy — that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today."
A bit of forgotten history evoking a kind of politics that isn't practiced these days. The name of Andrew Jackson may not speak to the average citizen, but the idea that Main Street should be considered more important than Wall Street - that's political gold.
"And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons."
The right people? It sounds to this commentator like he's talking about the middle class, instead of the selfish super-rich. Does this mean they plan to roll back tax cuts to the top one percent?
"With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years. Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world."
Translation: I told the President and his people that this was a HUGE mistake before they went into it. They didn't listen, and America is less safe as a result. This is a powerful frame, because it builds a bridge between those who trusted the President's lies on Iraq to someone who didn't. Instead of being threatened by the idea that THEY were wrong, they can accept that the PRESIDENT was wrong instead. And they can choose NOW to side with the opposition party and its more sensible leaders, leaders like Jim Webb.
"I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq."
He tells you that he didn't trust the President, and then immediately moves into his bio, a bio that stresses the sacrifice of his family, and by extension, himself. This puts him in the category of hard-working patriot, in direct contradiction to the President. This activates the frame of the President as AWOL chickenhawk, and the Democrats as real soldiers for freedom. I am really liking this guy, and I can't tell if it's because he fought for his country or if it's because the President didn't. An effective way to draw us into the correct opinion of the war as a mistake.
"Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues — those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death — we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm¹s way."
Again the idea that we trusted the President, and he let us down. Despite that, we went into battle anyway, as we are loyal patriots. If you remember the context, that this is the Democratic response to the President, you get that he's telling Americans they can trust Democrats to be honest and self-sacrificing, for the good of the country. I almost see this speech as a Democratic Party recruitment tape.
"We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us — sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it."
Think about this: what the President and his party DIDN'T GIVE US was "sound judgement, clear thinking, and concern for our welfare". Do you get this? He's telling you that your President lied to you and put your sons and daughters in harm's way.
"The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed."
This is awesome. The Democratic response to the President is delivering more than just policy differences, it's delivering HEAT. Jim Webb is directly challenging the President as having "recklessly" put us into an unavoidable and disastrous war. I love it.
"The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve."
If you're against this war already, you feel it. Each cost hits you like a brick to the face. If you still think it might be worth it, you're forced to think about what we've paid to get where we are.
"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq¹s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."
"We need a new direction." A Democratic Party slogan, but one that fits perfectly in the context of this war. The President has let us down and got our kids mired in a lose-lose situation. And now the Democratic Party is telling you that they can get us out.
"On both of these vital issues, our economy and our national security, it falls upon those of us in elected office to take action."
Translation: It falls to us, the Democrats who now run Congress.
"Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt."
A little more history, moving chronologically up to TR, who almost single-handedly saved capitalism from the forces of corporate greed.
"Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves "as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other." And he did something about it."
Get this: he is suggesting that the President of the United States could emulate Theodore Roosevelt and take on his own party AGAINST the ruthless corporate elite that is destroying this country. Of course that would never happen in a million years, but he's actually suggesting that it's possible.
"As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War II. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end."
Translation: If Eisenhower could end the Korean War, George W. Bush could end the Iraq War.
"These presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this president to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way."
"Showing him the way"? Sounds a lot like showing him the door.
A great performance. It lived up to what I thought it would be like, and showed Jim Webb the war hero to America in a way that showed America what the Democratic Party looks like. It seemed almost calculated, as if the speechwriter consulted with George Lakoff ahead of time, but it works. Webb delivered it in a way that felt natural, that felt real. You get that this guy is facing difficult times wondering if his son will survive the war, wondering when this nightmare will end. You want to HELP HIM end it. A good speech, in general, and one that we should remember.
But I do want to say a little bit about what wasn't included. Any talk of the abandonment of the poor and middle class in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, other than that little tease right at the beginning. Any discussion of the scandalous cuts in the Veteran's Administration for returning veterans seeking help with problems after the war, not to mention long-term funding problems that make it hard for older veterans to get help in a timely manner.
It seems to me that this speech whets our appetite for more Democratic Party rhetoric. It makes us want to know more about Jim Webb, and the Democratic Party position on the war as well as domestic issues. But what it doesn't do is tell us exactly how the Democrats are going to fix the problems that Bush and his neocons have brought to this country.
For that, we'll just have to stay tuned. With any luck, this performance by Webb will increase the interest of the average American in learning more about Democrats and their plans for fixing the problems we face. If that happens, this speech will have done it's job.
If not, I don't think we can blame Jim Webb. Chances are, this speech will have only as much impact as the right-wing corporate media will allow it to have. Which, if what little coverage of the speech I've seen on the news so far is any indication, won't be much.
What can you do? Call the Democratic National Committee and congratulate Jim Webb on doing such a tremendous job. And while you're on the phone, why not call Jim Webb's office personally, and let him know that you liked what you saw.
If enough of us do that, I think we can expect more of the same, from Webb as well as the rest of the Democratic Party.
Categories: Politics - National, War & Peace