"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Speech Therapy



Bearing "the imprint of a

battle-scarred political veteran

whose eyes are on survival, not

posterity," Bill Clinton stepped

up to the microphone, "exhorting

the new Republican Congress to

put aside 'partisanship,

pettiness, and pride.'"

Conspicuously overlooking his

own political wounds to extend

leadership to the nation, the

president went on to offer a

detailed outline of his

political vision, raising a

fresh call for "a new effort to

rekindle a public spirit of

community and civic virtue."


And then, four years later, he

did it again.


Warm congratulations are owed to

those political reporters who

worked up the energy to write

fresh new stories; the stuff

from '95 ("Aides Say State of

Union Will 'Reintroduce'

Clinton" or "Clinton Seizes

Moment, Puts GOP on Defensive")

would have worked perfectly well

this year, and we're close to

100 percent sure no one would

have noticed - certainly not

those unfortunates forced to

rely on the news to arrive at

some understanding about what

nominal head-of-state Bill

Clinton had just said.


While the president slung every

animal, vegetable, and mineral on his table into

that overflowing pot of hobo

stew, we listened along on the

radio. Clinton introduced

Chicago slugger Sammy Sosa. And

one of the news anchors covering

the speech for National Public

Radio burst into a frenetic run

of explanatory whispering: Plays

for the Cubs, hit more home runs

than Roger Maris but not more

home runs than Mark McGwire,

does volunteer work in the

Dominican Republic, was never

really into Devo, looks sallow

in aqua. But when the nation's

top defendant mentioned

radically unfamiliar policy

initiatives - Clinton's call for

passage of something called the

"African Growth and Opportunity

Act" leapt out at us - there was

no help at all for the folks

back home. And then the speech

ended, and the pattern of

uselessness held; the crack

journalists at NPR quickly began

interviewing students about

their impression of the speech.

How did it make you feel? How

did the president look? (Was he

foxy? Would you go for him?)

Other news sources were equally




A little research cleared things

right up, though. The news

archives of the Los Angeles

Times - which, unlike the news

archives of its New York

competitor, aren't completely

useless, even if the LA Times

itself is actually kind of

shitty - delivered a

10-month-old Op-Ed piece that

made passing reference to the

bill. The African Growth and

Opportunity Act is "legislation

that promotes private US trade

with and investment in Africa

and allows quota and duty-free

imports from 48 African

countries." Note that this tells

you close to nothing at all. Are

there corporate tax incentives?

If so, how generous? Is there a

direct aid component? Does the

Act specifically address the

problem of trading around the

current instability and

political violence in central

and western Africa? What about

Libya? And will there be a new

Disney theme park in Kigali? But

this is still more information

than you got in your morning

newspaper the day after 43.5

million people watched the

president call for its passage

into law.


Politicians walk on a road that

disintegrates behind them as

they advance; they continually

discover Brave New Ideas like

this bold call from Clinton on

Tuesday night: "To ensure that

our classrooms are truly places

of learning, all states and

school districts must adopt and

implement discipline

policies.... If we do these

things - end social promotion,

turn around failing schools,

build modern ones, support

qualified teachers, promote

innovation, competition, and

discipline - we will begin to

meet our generation's historic

responsibility to create

21st-century schools."

Classrooms where children learn



And it's not just schools,

either. Second runner-up for the


our-mothers prize: "We must

bring prosperity back to the

family farm." But what about the

powerful pro-rural-poverty

lobby? What about all those

farmers who prefer to starve to

death? For folks back in the

city, Clinton proposes "rapid

response teams to help towns

where factories have closed,"

about which he said not one

specific word. Considering the

source, we're seeing a network

of empaths, shock teams of

emotional paratroopers ready at

a moment's notice to feel for

the economically devastated. Get

me a chopperload of crocodile

tears, on the double!



For all the uselessly vague

discoveries that schools should

be good and farms should provide

the most benefit to farmers when

they're profitable, a very real

shamelessness emerged elsewhere

in Clinton's bloated speech.

"The bombing of our embassies in

Kenya and Tanzania reminds us of

the risks faced every day by

those who represent America to

the world," the president said

Tuesday night. "Let's give them

our support, the safest possible

workplaces, and the resources

they need so America can

continue to lead." Before the 7

August bombings, however - as a

pair of reports by government

commissions made perfectly

clear less than a month before

the State of the Union Address -

the US ambassador to Kenya,

Prudence Bushnell, had

repeatedly warned that security

was horribly inadequate at the

embassy there. No one ever paid

her the least bit of attention.

As an 8 January New York Times

story explains, "Administration

officials said members of the

two panels were startled by how

little had been accomplished in

improving security in American

embassies since a wide-ranging

investigation of the subject in

1985 by a Government panel led

by Bobby R. Inman, a retired

admiral and the former Deputy

Director of Central

Intelligence." Ignore the alarm

for years; then, after the

attack, step forward and let

everyone see you taking the

initiative to sound the alarm.



One more? State of the Union

Address, 1995: "From the day I

took office, I pledged that our

nation would maintain the

best-equipped, best-trained, and

best-prepared military on Earth.

We have, and they are.... But to

make sure our military is ready

for action, and to provide the

pay and the quality of life the

military and their families

deserve, I'm asking Congress to

add $25 billion in defense

spending over the next six

years." State of the Union

Address, 1999: "It is time to

reverse the decline in defense

spending that began in 1985.

Since April, together we have

added nearly $6 billion to

maintain our readiness. My

balanced budget calls for a

sustained increase over the next

six years for readiness and

modernization, and pay and

benefits for our troops."

Lather, rinse, repeat.


Time to turn on the radio, we're

thinking, and hear about the way

some ordinary people reacted to

the president's speech.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers