I was going to respond to President Bush's State of the Union Address, which he delivered last night, but then I looked at the text:
Three men's dress shirts (light starch)... and decided it's just not worth the effort.
One blue blazer
Two men's trousers
One grey pinstripe suit
Three ladies' blouses
One blue dress
Three pairs black socks
One jogging suit
One pair tennis shorts
Instead, I thought it would be fun to go back ten years and see what I wrote about another president's list of (unaccomplished) aims. From the Metro Herald in February 1996, here is what I wrote about Bill Clinton's State of the Union message for that year:
State of the Union: But, But, But ...Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
The difference between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole is this: Although neither Clinton nor Dole really believes in anything, Clinton knows how to fake it. (Long before his 100th birthday, George Burns observed: "Acting is all about sincerity. If you can fake that, you're set for life.")If the State of the Union Address and Dole's response indeed launched the 1996 presidential campaign, Dole is in for a sad, downhill retreat. The contrast between the two performances was stark: Clinton was relaxed, vigorous, emphatic; Dole was twitchy, anemic, soulless. Yet only in their styles did the contrast shine forth. Though their deliveries were decidedly different, their content was barely distinguishable.Television -- which is how most Americans observed the Clinton and Dole speeches -- is a visual medium that conveys emotion much better than argument. Neither Clinton nor Dole tried for much substance in their speeches. Their themes rested entirely on feelings.Indeed, the themes of both politicians were conservative. Clinton sounded much like Ronald Reagan -- something he does often and well, dating to his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic convention. He emphasizes themes of family, neighborhood, and work -- the same themes that motivated Reagan's winning 1980 presidential campaign. (Reagan himself developed these themes when he stumped the country in the 1950s and ‘60s, and used them effectively in "The Speech" that launched his career as a politician. Delivered on behalf of Barry Goldwater just before the 1964 presidential election, "The Speech" made Reagan the darling of the dawning conservative movement.)Unfortunately, Clinton does not mean what he says. When he appears to embrace conservative -- even libertarian -- principles, he always has a fallback to traditional, failed liberal policies. In his State of the Union message, Clinton used the word "but" 27 times in 65 minutes. Each time he made a grand statement that conservatives and libertarians could readily and happily agree with -- such as "the era of big government is over" -- he qualified it with a "but." Each "but" meant that "we liberals recognize that conservatives have won over public opinion, so we're telling you we agree with them, even though we're sticking to the same policies we've advocated for thirty years."In his faltering attempt to respond to Clinton, Dole attacked straw men that must have befuddled most viewers. Most of his attacks rang true for committed conservatives -- accusing Clinton of alignment with elitist special interests, for instance -- but they had little to do with the powerful speech Clinton had just presented. And Dole offered few specifics to distinguish himself and the Republicans from Clinton and the Democrats. He gave us no reason to vote for him, personally, or his party.Just so. The Republicans and Democrats agree on so much in terms of keeping the government big and intrusive, they must pretend to disagree in order to trade positions of power every four years. Is it any wonder that 60 percent of Americans tell pollsters they'd like to see a third political party emerge to challenge the Republicans and Democrats?Clinton promised to seek a higher minimum wage. All economists agree that higher minimum wages result in higher unemployment for the most marginalized workers in society -- teenagers getting their first job, illiterate and unskilled workers, single mothers re-entering the workforce after raising their children. By raising costs for businesses, minimum wage laws fatten the welfare rolls.Dole said nothing about this.Clinton promised to seek laws that force insurance companies to grant health insurance policies to anyone who wants them, regardless of "pre-existing conditions" (that is, being sick). This will raise the cost of insurance premiums for everyone, making health insurance unaffordable for some -- many -- Americans at a time when government interference in the health care system raises prices across the board.Dole said nothing about this.Both Clinton and Dole call for more intrusion into the lives of Americans. In particular, as Clinton pointed out, Republicans and Democrats agree on a number of new programs. Gene Cisewski, chairman of the D.C. Libertarian Party, mentioned a few of these in a post-speech interview: "Calling for mandatory V-chips in TV sets, expanding social programs, building up more arms on our borders, showing off his real live general for a war against the American people, and campaign finance ‘reform' that effectively blocks third parties from political access move this country in a more authoritarian direction."If the Republicans want to win the 1996 presidential election, they need to find a more dynamic candidate than Dole (perhaps Steve Forbes) who genuinely believes in policy changes that can move the country in a positive direction. If they do end up with Dole, Tuesday's match-up shows that Clinton will mop up the floor with his opponent.But the ultimate losers will be the American people.* * * * * * * * * * * *Richard Sincere is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.
(Doesn't that tagline date the piece?)