This Tuesday, the presidential State of the Union Address rolls around yet again. Only four Januaries have passed since the President used a State of the Union Address to brand Iran, Iraq, and North Korea -- the first two then bitter enemies, the third completely unrelated to either of them and on the other side of the planet -- as a World-War-II-style "axis of evil." It was the first great State of Disunion deception of the Bush administration's regal reign of error. Only three Januaries ago came the second. The President stood before Congress and pronounced those sixteen little words on his bum's rush to war with Iraq: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
How time flies. Now, thanks to the decision to terrify and manipulate Congress and the American people into this administration's much desired, unprovoked invasion of Iraq (and everything that followed from it), almost two-thirds of that "axis of evil" -- Iran and southern Iraq as well as the newly elected government in Baghdad's Green Zone -- have become something like an "axis" of two democratically elected, theocratic Shiite powers; while the third member of that putative axis is now a genuine, no-holds-barred nuclear "axis" of one. In the meantime, those sixteen words morphed into another kind of administration catastrophe -- the Joseph Wilson op-ed on Saddam's missing Niger uranium; the conspiracy inside the administration to smear Wilson; the outing of his CIA agent/wife, Valerie Plame; the coming into being of the Plame case; and the appointment of a dogged prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, as Special Counsel to investigate an administration which prided itself on controlling everything in its path but couldn't, in the end, control the career officials in the Justice Department who managed to make the appointment. Now, sixteen words, so many secret meetings, leaks, smears, lies, obfuscations, obstructions, baroque press briefings, and plots later, Fitzgerald works doggedly in the wings, the bureaucracy's avenging angel in its war with this administration. Having lopped off the Vice President's good right arm, I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby, Fitzgerald seems to be preparing to take out the President's "brain," Karl Rove and then check the landscape for other candidates.
Now, here we are, at the President's fifth State of the Union Address. Last year, of course, he brought forward his -- lucky for us all -- DOA social security overhaul. "Fixing" social security was what he called it, but putting in the fix on that classic safety-net program might better have caught the spirit of the moment -- or, if you want to get the full picture, just imagine the hurricane Katrina rescue effort applied to the world of retirement. This year, Richard W. Stevenson of the New York Times writes, the President will focus on health care (hold your hats), spending restraint (every speech needs a laugh line), illegal immigration, and "the nation's international economic competitiveness" (okay, two laugh lines).
You have to wonder: Which sixteen words will it be this time? Will it be National Security Agency spying assurances ("As I stand here right now, I can tell the American people the program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties..."), the Abramoff denials ("I've had my picture taken with a lot of people..."), the complete-victory-in-Iraq pronouncements, or more bogus reassurances to the elderly and sickly in our society? It's your guess -- and while you're considering the matter, I have another urge. As I think back on this administration's record, on this country (call me "homeland," Bill Bailey), and on this planet in its edgy state of disunion, I'd like to tote things up for a moment.
You know how every couple of months the New York Times produces that not particularly inspiring Iraq scorecard (thanks to the Brookings Institution) -- how much electricity available 2003, 2004, 2005; how many Iraqi "security personnel" stood up; how much crude oil produced; how many insurgent attacks or suicide bombings? Well, I've had the urge lately to produce an equivalent Bush administration scorecard. You know, the trillion dollar invasion, occupation, and war; the multimultibillion dollar hurricane; the $67 going on $130 barrel of crude oil; the war on terror that somehow has managed not to pick up Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, or the anthrax killer; that ever thinning "green line" of a Bushed and broken Army; our busted government; those every-child-left-behind educational "reforms"; the Medicare prescription drug plan that couldn't shoot straight; the liberated-from-terror country that now produces not just enough opium but enough heroin to inject us all, and so on and so forth.
It really doesn't matter what the crisis is. The response these days is predictably the same. You have thirteen men stranded in a mine disaster in West Virginia? Think of it as the Katrina rescue operation gone underground. Rescue teams were once mandated to be located at mines. Under this President, they can be up to two hours away. As it happens, the team heading for the Sago mine took a mere six hours to get itself together and arrive, while the trapped miners wrote their goodbye notes and all but one slowly died. No surprise there. After all, in recent years the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has been FEMAted, and heck-of-a-job-Brownie-ized. Then again, what hasn't?