President Bush declared that “jobs are on the rise” — literally true, but listlessly so. His report on the death of the “death tax” was a bit premature. His account of Afghanistan moving toward freedom and normalcy is challenged by some of the realities on the ground.
Bush’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was notably cautious in comparison with the one he gave last year, when he made claims about Iraq that did not stand up.
Delivering a speech that went through more than 10 drafts over more than two months, he picked his way carefully through language on weapons of mass destruction, taxes and more. “There are not a lot of disputable claims in this speech,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
In simple terms
Yet complex realities were sometimes boiled down into simplified rhetoric.
Bush’s boast on employment comes against a backdrop of 2.3 million jobs lost during his presidency. The improving economy may have begun to turn that around, but the climb is slow: Businesses added just 1,000 new jobs last month, and the drop in unemployment to 5.7 percent was attributed to frustrated workers — almost 310,000 — who left the labor force.
In asking Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, Bush rattled off a variety of taxes that will automatically go back up unless something is done. “Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life,” he said.
If listeners took that to mean that the inheritance tax was history, it is not. It is being phased out during the decade but is not in its grave yet.
Bush’s progress report on Afghanistan covered the opening of new businesses and health care centers, the return of both boys and girls to school and other steps toward building a nation “that is free and proud and fighting terror.”
It did not cover such developments as the rising U.S. casualties or the surging violence overall that has threatened to delay plans for a presidential election this summer.
Bush also cited an 11 percent drop in illegal drug use among high school students over the past two years — accurately summarizing a study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
But the study also found slowing declines in the use of certain drugs by eighth-graders and a slight increase in their use of inhalants. That troubles researchers who say eighth-graders are often indicative of coming drug-use trends.
Hedging his bets
Still, the speech was sprinkled with qualifying language on one topic after another.
Last year, Bush’s assertions about Iraq’s shopping for uranium in Africa turned out to be wrong, and other statements in support of going to war were questionable.
White House officials emphasized that the speech Tuesday was carefully vetted for accuracy. “I can assure you that it’ll all be fact-checked just right,” Communications Director Dan Bartlett said.
Only time can tell whether Bush’s promises in the speech will be kept. But the context in which he made them Tuesday was missing on occasion.
For example, he thanked troops and the families for their service and said: “And my administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.”
To date, troops have lacked some key resources. The Defense Department has struggled with delays in the production and distribution of the latest body armor to troops in Iraq, among other supply problems.
Troops reuniting with their families have had to pay for their own airfare home and other travel costs once they are flown free to a small selection of cities while on leave. The government has been working on a plan to pick up more of the costs.