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January 29, 2006

Your State of the Union Checklist
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Anyone else feel like this State of the Union (SOTU) is a little overhyped?

The Wall Street Journal pointed out last week that Bush’s ratings had gone down after at least two of his previous SOTUs, a fact that had escaped me.  The Washington Post says the State of the Union is passe and should be abandoned.  The media has been covering State of the Union previews for two weeks.  Enough, already.

Anyway, if you want a State of the Union parody, click here.  If you want a State of the Union drinking game, click here.  If you want Suzanne's thoughtful list of things Bush should say, click here.

But if you want my top five things to watch for, scroll on:

Democracy Promotion:  It’ll be fascinating to see how this gets finessed in the wake of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.  The disappointing showing of moderate and secular Iraqi parties, though equally problematic, is easier to finesse.  Egyptian opposition leaders criticizing us from prison?  No problem.  I’m glad I’m not drafting this section.

Immigration:  For several months now, progressive pollsters have been warning Democratic party leadership that, while policy wonks don’t see immigration as a national security issue, regular Americans do.  The Administration recognizes this dynamic – indeed its pro-business leadership fears getting impaled on it – and will have thought long and hard over its approach.  Progressive response?

Iraq numbers game: My bet is that the President will not brag that troop numbers are down, leaving it to others to do that while he trumpets “staying the course.”  But I could very well be wrong. Iran: can he keep the rhetoric at a low enough simmer to keep talks going and allies on board, or is it impossible to resist playing to the critics on both sides of his Administration?

Overarching Frame:  we’ve had “humble nation,” we’ve had terrorism, we’ve had WMD, we’ve had democracy promotion as foreign policy frames.  That’s four in five years.  I’ll be very curious whether the clever folks in the framing rhetoric workshop trot out another one for us.  My bets are on “stay the course.”  Rove’s comments about the ’06 elections would seem to suggest a return engagement for straight-up terrorism.  But this is the beginning of legacy time, after all, -- and John Ikenberry argues that Bush and Rice are becoming liberal internationalists before our eyes -- so I wouldn’t even be surprised at a new, squishy-sounding paradigm emerging.

I’m on the road this week – Louisville and Des Moines – so will post again after the speech.  Just watch yourselves with those drinking games, huh?


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Well, I don't plan to watch the State of the Union speech. I think the only one I have watched during the past seven or eight years was the 2002 speech. I find the State of the Union speech to be among the most tiresome and unendurable of American rituals. It generally contains little of substance that could not be neatly contained in a two-page executive summary. The rest is meaningless bloviating, and maddeningly inane applause. Clinton's speeches were especially stupefacient, and ruined my taste for any more. Bush? I can't even bear to listen to him for 15 seconds at a time. After an hour, I'm sure would want to jump out of a window.

I have no suggestions to offer progressives for response, other than on the issue of immigration.

As I see it, the correct progressive response to the immigration issue is to defend liberality, democracy, the rights of American workers, and the rule of law. Progressives should thus take an unequivocal and activist line in favor of very open legal immigration, and an equally unequivocal line against illegal immigration and the economic explotation of undocumented workers.

America has traditionally had liberal immigration laws, and that should continue. The nation was built by immigrants and should continue to welcome immigrants from all parts of the world, in large numbers, representing different religions, cultures and ethnicities. The renewal, energy, cultural vibrancy and diversity that are provided by successive waves of immigration are a key to US strength, and the rituals of welcome, ethnic conflict resolution, community development and assimilation that are repeated from one generation to the next provide a living moral example in the American way and the American spirit for each generation of Americans.

However, Americans possess a democracy, and aspire to be a self-governing people. They have the right to make the laws governing immigration, and to see to it that their government enforces the laws that are made. The current situation, in which there is massive illegal immigration, and rampant violation of US laws governing immigration, by both newcomers and the business class that expolits them, is an insult to the Americans who have created these laws, and who abide by them. The fact that many of our politicians and business leaders make endless excuses for rank illegality intensifies the insult.

Illegal immigration also distributes the burdens of the assimilation of newcomers very unequally. And it threatens the long-term prospects for liberal legal immigration, by producing a more general anti-immigrant backlash.

Americans have also enacted labor protections over many years. Illegal immigration greatly undermines these protections, and creates downward pressure on wages. The fact that it does so is one of the reasons it is welcomed by the anti-labor business class. Americans have traditionally looked to Democrats to protect the rights and livelihood of American workers, and Democrats must act boldly to recover that traditional role.

Many on the right hide behind the justified concerns over illegal immigration to advance a racist, nativist, xenophobic and ultranationalist agenda. Democrats should come up with proposals that serve as wedge issues to expose these reactionaries, and separate them from the progressive and more authentically American movement. For example, by proposing policies and legislation that comes down hard on illegal immigration and vigorously enforce immigration laws, while at the same time expanding and promoting legal immigration, and offering more benefits, opportunities and protections to legal immigrants, progressives can establish a popular and distinctive position.

A susccessful political position on a major issue must be clear, simple, powerful and unequivocal. Legal immigration - yes! Illegal immigration - no! That says it all.

When the people applauded him wildly, Phocion turned to one of his friends and asked, "Have I said something foolish?"

Have to agree with both of you that the SOTU is overhyped, and the applause lines generally insufferable.

But I'm not sure Dan's recommendations on the immigration issue are sound from a political point of view. Immigration is a wedge issue for both parties, and it's not clear to me that arguing for more open borders is a political winner at this point.

This is one issue where I wouldn't mind the Democrats doing a lot more polling before coming out with an opinion. It's dynamite and will blow up in our faces if we're not careful about getting too far ahead of the country on this.

Progressive stance on immigration really should not be that hard to figure out:

1. Establish a work visa program with Mexico to allow workers to enter and exit the United States without giving them US citizenship.

2. Tighten up (and adequately resource) US border security to combat aggressive and well-armed drug and human smugglers.

3. Raise the minimum wage to allow a true "living wage."

4. Ruthlessly police the private and commercial firms as far as fair employment and health benefits.

5. Make a committment with Mexico to clean up corruption and trafficking of illegal goods.

While the costs of items 3 and 4 will undoubtably be passed onto the consumer, the choice is clear - more security (physical and job) comes with a cost. Make these points a clear and simple statement, and you have a progressive immigration strategy that will win over Hispanic votes from the Repubs.

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