Mindless applause marks Bush's speech

It was a mix of almost unending annoyance and a few fresh moments.
I loved it, for example, when Dick Cheney popped a cough drop, or a No-Doze, or a nitro.
But Wednesday night's State of the Union struck me mostly as simplistic applause lines anchored by two powerful personal appearances, a tedious tradition freshened by the presence of a few real people.
First the bad news.
The audience -- Congress, the Cabinet and such -- sounded like so many circus seals: 66 applause interruptions in a 53-minute speech.
Gimme a break.
They applauded a rehash of everything George Bush ran on the first time back in 2000, the same stuff they applauded in every State of the Union he's read.
"Make health care more affordable"; get rid of "junk lawsuits"; make America "less dependent on foreign energy"; reform our immigration policy; pass medical-liability reform; make the tax code "easy to understand and fair to all."
Good night.
It's hard to understand how he can say these things over and over year after year with anything approaching sincerity, and how the Congress can then clap and leap to its feet as if these things are new or things in which it believes and is now suddenly willing to pass.
What I thought was this: prime-time phonies.
Then came Social Security.
About 12 minutes in, Bush spent a big chunk of time, a full 10 minutes, pushing the argument for "personal retirement accounts."
The word "privatization," which doesn't poll well, is gone. So is "crisis." Now it's a "serious" problem that won't affect anybody 55 or older but needs to be corrected for younger workers to protect and ensure "our children's retirement security."
But it's a problem decades old, with a due date decades hence.
So there were lots of "ooohs," nearly "boos," from the crowd, suggesting no, uh-uh, this ain't happenin'; we are not about to touch this puppy; we have to face re-election -- many of us in just two years -- you never have to again.
Protecting marriage
Then there was the toss to the right: constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, some stuff about medical research (I think I nodded off a bit here) and something about making sure "human life is never bought or sold as a commodity," which I took to be a reference to either slavery or prostitution, which, I guess, he's against.
There were moments of real stuff.
The Iraqi woman who voted with millions of her countrymen on Sunday; the parents, Janet and Bill Norwood, of a Texas Marine killed in Iraq. And when they embraced, it was a far cry from the rest of the evening.
Bush used that Iraqi vote, a good moment for his cause, well.
He restated his goal of "ending tyranny in our world."
But I still wonder about $1 billion a week, 1,400 Americans dead so far and whether anything to date is worth it.
X John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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