Jan 30, 2007

The state of our union

by Will Mayer
Both sides of the aisle were teeming with politicians hoping to get a moment in the limelight as President Bush passed through them on his way to deliver his 2007 State of the Union Address.

It was like a holiday where you visit with family you’d rather not see, but it’s still all smiles and compliments when the introductions are made. Or, even more germane, a wedding where both sides of the aisle would be at each other’s throats, were it not for the flowery ropes that cordoned them off to their respective sides of the room. Like a wedding, the  proceedings were almost royal in nature, as the officials made their way between the invisible seas of tension between those aisles.

Even with all this ceremony, the individuals involved seem to have no respect for anyone on the other side of their viewpoints. While there are no open rebukes shouted from the gallery, like one might see on C-SPAN’s broadcast of a session of the House of Commons, there is still the ever-present childish practice of one side of the hall sitting in silence with pouting faces, while the other side stands, hoots and claps for what the President has to say. This distinction was made much more evident by the change in the majority of the congress, and subsequently Nancy Pelosi’s sharing of the dais with Vice President Cheney. It almost appeared to be some sort of game of musical chairs as one stood while the other sat.

In my naivete I was beginning to believe that the domestic policies were being well accepted by both sides of the aisle. After all, President Bush reached across traditional partisan lines by offering such agendas as lowering gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years’ time, and even mentioning the problem of global climate changes as a valid concern. But it seems Junior Senator Jim Webb, a man I’m proud to say makes me ashamed to be a Virginian, couldn’t have disagreed more. He talked down the President’s mention of economic growth, citing that those benefits were “not being properly shared,” and went on to rebuke most of the other policy initiatives the President had offered.

    As was no surprise, the President’s foreign policy went over about as well as a pork chop in a  synagogue. Pelosi’s previous show of agreement—begrudging or otherwise—vanished and she proceeded to look like she was sitting on a tack. All the while, one side stood, the other sat, or one side applauded while the other talked out of the sides of their mouths, and why? There is simply no respect held for politicians. How can Americans respect their leaders when the leaders cannot even respect each other?

However, there was something that struck me as very important. President Bush honored four individuals who he said captured the “spirit and character of America.” He spoke of Dikembe Mutumbo, basketball player and philanthropist to the Congo, Julie Aigner-Clark, successful business and social-program     entrepreneur, Wesley Autry, the New York subway hero, and Tommy Reiman, an Iraq war hero. All four of these people whom the President said captured the “spirit and character of America,” received more applause than issue of policy, program, or strategy. Why? It’s simple: they are heroes and America will always have a place for heroes.

Throughout the nation’s history we have had presidents who were respected on a heroic level. Presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt come to mind. When politicians are willing to rise to the occasion, such as the everyday heroes mentioned in the State of the Union Address, respect for politicians will arise again. As I look toward 2008 I don’t yet see a candidate that fits that description, but heroes can be made in a single defining moment. Whether it be in 2008, 2012, or beyond, I’ll be watching and waiting for a hero.


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