Mr. Bush delivered a State of the Union message that was superficially hopeful, but reinforced all the same policies that have led to continued increases in the deficit, in the deaths of both military and civilians in Iraq, and in the first increases in US abortion rates since 1990. His speech was a stew of contradictions. He referred to the "dark vision of hatred and fear" among America's adversaries, combated by a "hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change." But he made no reference to the dark vision of hatred and fear that he and his vice-president perpetrated in a cavalcade of color-coded "terror alerts" that mysterious ended just before the presidential election in 2004. In the daily killing of both American military and innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, it is difficult to see where "peaceful change" comes into the Bush/Cheney strategy.
His condemnation of Iran's nuclear ambitions made no reference to his own nuclear ambitions: to break the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, by reinitiating nuclear tests, and by supporting the design of two new forms of tactical nuclear weapons that ostensibly are intended for use against Iran.
On the domestic front, he advocated permanent unbalanced decreases in the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans like himself and Mr. Cheney, while trivializing devastating cuts in domestic programs for medical research, food stamps, college loans, and healthcare for the poor and elderly. He euphemistically described these cuts as an effort to "reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities."
He again falsely projected that he would cut the deficit in half, this time by the year 2009. Even allowing for the failure of Mr. Bush's efforts last year to impose huge new financial demands on government revenues by putting Social Security taxes in private accounts, no serious economist thinks that there is even a remote chance of cutting the deficit in half while making permanent the huge projected tax cuts to America's wealthiest heirs and investors.
On the premier issue that Republicans have exploited to portray themselves as protectors of America's moral life, Mr. Bush apparently chose to ignore data from the CDC showing increased abortions during his second year in office. He stated, "There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row." He failed to point out that new CDC data now show the first increases in abortion since his father was in office 16 years ago, demonstrating the impotence of the four laws passed in the first Bush term that sought to label the Democrats as being "pro-abortion." To give him the benefit of the doubt, he may have been alluding to Planned Parenthood-sponsored data released last year that included abortions in California (excluded from the CDC analysis). But depending on continued positive abortion trends in a state led by a pro-choice Republican governor and demonized by Republicans for its liberal political culture is an ironic form of salvation for Mr. Bush's unrealized promises to "protect the unborn."
The reality remains that the decreases in abortion cited by Mr. Bush in his speech were almost entirely attained under President Bill Clinton's two administrations. The statement about teen pregnancies served to hide the fact that teen abortions per 1000 live births to teenagers (the abortion ratio) actually rose in each of the two years of the Bush presidency for which CDC data are available (from 363 in 2000, to 368 in 2001, and 369 in 2002).
To his credit, Mr. Bush spoke of relieving suffering in the developing world from AIDS and malaria, and he called on Congress to pass funding for the Ryan White Act that would improve accessibility to HIV drugs for infected Americans. But one must be suspicious of the motives here, given the construction of legislation authorizing both the PEPFAR initiative to provide AIDS drugs in Africa and the new Medicard Part D drug benefit for seniors. Both programs have resulted in huge transfers of taxpayer dollars to pharmaceutical companies that played a key role in writing the legislation, and which subsequently hired the Republicans who designed these programs.
All-in-all, the State of the Union message failed to take responsibility for a legislative program that has resulted in hatred toward Americans around the world, new threats to peace and stability, huge new expenditures on the military while cutting healthcare for America's most vulnerable, and the first increases in abortions since 1990 despite all the rhetoric claiming to stand up for "the most vulnerable among us." Catholic social teaching urges us to greater compassion in our public lives, and actions in this regard speak much louder than words.