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Dubya's Dream: This is the State of the Union Address George W Should Have Given to Congress Last Night - But Didn't

30 January 2002

Last night George Bush gave his first State of the Union address. Earlier aides revealed that, as of last Friday, White House staff had prepared and discarded no fewer than 18 drafts. One of them found its way into the hands of the Guardian...

My fellow Americans. That's how all these speeches begin, isn't it? I watched my daddy say those words a hundred times. "My fellow Americans." But guess what? I'm gonna vary it up a little. How 'bout this: "My fellow Americans - and fellow citizens of the world." What do you think of that? Pretty cool, huh?

In fact, that's a clue to what I want to say tonight. It may surprisify a few of you, but here's the deal: I've decided to transformation my presidency. From now on - and I want to clarificate this so no one can be in any doubt - there's gonna be a new George W Bush.

Why, I hear you ask. Surely this guy's riding so high he's got no need to change! His approval rating's at 83%, he's won a foreign war, the country is united like never before, the US press corps are ready to kiss the Texan turf he walks on - why even that once-commie Brit bastard, Christopher Hitchens, is in the fan club! Why on earth would Dubya go changin'?

Well, I'm not stupid. OK, you don't have to give me a standing ovation just for that. But I'm not stupid. Sure, I can't watch TV and eat a savory snack at the same time, but I'm no dumb-ass. I can see there are clouds ahead, even now when the sun is shining so brightly.

We got some economic problems, had 'em even before September 11. But 9/11 cost us $639.3bn and 2m jobs. That's a lot of dough and a lot of people. Even I can see that. It's true that Alan Greenspan says the economy is showing signs of recovery. But the forecasts also say if we keep spending like we plan to - up 9% in the next budget - we're gonna get back in the red. It'll be just like it was in Daddy's day, and Uncle Ronnie's time before that: the era of big surpluses will be over, big deficits will be back. That's how conservative I am: I'm turning the clock back to the Reagan-Bush era!

Anyway, I know that when there are questions about the economy there are questions about the president: Daddy taught me that lesson, too. In the Bush household, we learned that victorious war leaders can lose their jobs pretty damn quick. So I can see those clouds out there. Enron ain't going away. In fact Cheney and I have given the press another nostalgia trip by citing "executive privilege" in our refusal to hand over key Enron documents: the last Prez to do that was Dick Nixon, and we all rememberize what happened to him!

I know I'm not invulnerable; we got some mid-terms in November, Republicans could lose control of the House.

That's why I've chosen to give you a different kind of speech tonight. It's gonna consist of three halves. First, the war on terror.

My aides have already said I'm gonna talk about the pain of September 11, the heroism of those firefighters - I'm gonna look up at a few of them, sitting in the gallery, and acknowledge their bravery - and I'm going to boast of our swift victory over the evil-doers in Afghanistan. It's no surprise that I vow to continue the war on al-Qaida and that I'm asking you, the Congress, to give the Pentagon the massive spending increases they request to fight that war.

But I want to go further. I want to recall the speech my good friend Toby, the British guy, made last year, when he called not just for a war on the evil ones, but a global effort to "heal the world". At the time my guys here in Washington thought that was sissy stuff. They laughed at Tommy Blair's pinko talk about fairer trade rules and a new war on global poverty. But now I reckon Tim's got a point.

I've also been listening to the speeches my predecessor has been making. So what if no one else in America is paying attention to Bill Clinton; I think he's making sense. It's true that a child denied a clean glass of water today could grow up to be the terrorist of tomorrow.

So tonight I want to announcerate a change in the way the United States sees the rest of the world - whether it be Afghans, Pakistanis or Grecians. I've decided we're gonna do our bit. Sure we can win wars with our sheer, overwhelming might. But what if we used our strength to prevent wars starting in the first place?

I'm gonna take Colin Powell's advice and declare that the captives held at Camp X-Ray are to be redesignated as prisoners of war - with all the rights that entails. We've won the war now: there's no point antagonizing Muslim opinion further by humiliating the folks in Guantanamo Bay.

In that same spirit, I'm seeing King Abdullah of Jordan on Friday. I'm gonna tell him we're ready to get back involved in the search for Middle East peace. I promised the Palestinians American support for their own, viable state; it's about time I did something about it. On Thursday I've got Chancellor Shro-, Shreo- - that German guy - coming here. First time he visited, we had a row about the Kyoto treaty. This time I'm gonna tell him, we're ready to sign up once more.

Now the second half of my speech: "homeland security". Everyone thinks I'm gonna ask for more money for the heroes who protect us: police, firefighters, all those folks. You're damn right. But I've been thinking. If public spending is right for things like fighting terror, perhaps it's right for other things, too. Like maybe people actually want governments to do things individuals cannot do alone. Gee, I've just realized that's a rejection of everything my family and my party have ever stood for - but it sounds right!

And so to the third and final half of my address: the economy. The advance spin was that I would restate my case for tax cuts. Not gonna do it. If we cut taxes and jack up spending on security, we're gonna have no money left for increases on anything else - education, free medicine for the elderly, pension reform. So I say read my lips: no more tax cuts.

While I'm at it, my advisers say I should avoid saying the word Enron. But guess what: Enron, Enron, Enron. We should all keep saying it, because that turkey is an ad for all that's wrong in corporate America. At home they were hoodwinking the stockmarkets and their own staff, abroad they were screwing up the environment and breaking whole communities. They are proof that we need a new climate of corporate responsibility. Not just transparency, but tough regulation to make sure they do the right thing. We can start by full disclosure of every document connecting Enron to the White House.

To conclude, the state of our union is strong. But by pursuing justice with the same vigor we pursue power, we could be even stronger.

Jonathan Freedland
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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