It's a shame that taking questions from skeptical reporters isn't part of the standard operating procedure for the State of the Union address. Here are some questions I would have asked of President Bush had I been permitted to sit in (right behind the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thank you, for maximum TV face time).
• Mr. President, you say, "To lift the standards of our public schools, we achieved historic education reform which must now be carried out in every school and in every classroom so that every child in American can read and learn and succeed in life." Could you please explain precisely how your program—which has been criticized on many levels, especially for its focus on boosting funding for historically failed Title I programs, is really going to improve the lives and education of most American children? And do you intend to give up on vouchers now—you didn't mention them tonight—or fight harder against congressional opposition?
• Mr. President, you say, "To protect our country, we reorganized our government and created the Department of Homeland Security, which is mobilizing against the threats of a new era." Would you care to address concerns, like those of the American Civil Liberties Union, that the program lacks accountability, punishes whistleblowers, overly limits Freedom of Information Act requests, and threatens personal privacy? Why is another layer of bureaucracy needed to fulfill one of the basic functions of the federal government, one it proved itself frightfully inefficient at on 9/11? How exactly will this new level of bureaucracy improve functionality?
• Is there any reason, Mr. President, why you don't expect any new prescription drug benefit to balloon in cost beyond all original expectations and add immensely to health care inflation, the way the original Medicare program did?
• Given the need for government austerity and limiting discretionary spending—"spending discipline," as you put it in your speech, Mr. President—and given the many failures of past government programs to redesign the way standard cars operate, like Jimmy Carter's Synfuels and the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles in the '90s, and given that car companies already have the impetus and the head start to fund the research and discover whether hydrogen cars really make economic sense (and whether they can work without using more energy than a standard car), why spend a billion-plus taxpayer dollars (just to start) on such research?
• Mr. President, given your apparent belief that it is the U.S. government's essential, constitutionally mandated role to fight AIDS in Africa (despite some reasonable doubts about the actual scope of that crisis), fund commercial research, pay for prescription drugs, pay for people to go through drug "treatment" that in most cases they haven't even chosen, and pay volunteers to mentor kids, could you explain exactly how you think your philosophy of government differs from that of your Democratic opponents?
• The most important part of your speech concerned Iraq—its weapons, and what we must or can do about them. You suggest that we have reason to believe Iraq possesses various quantities of chemical weapons and the means to deliver them, and also probably has a nuclear weapon program of some sophistication in the works. Even if we grant the point that you are trying to make, Mr. President—that Iraq has these weapons—you have not yet proven the probity of your apparent plans to launch a war to eliminate these weapons, or the threat of their use.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like there is something of a contradiction involved: If they have the weapons, as you say, and have not used them (nor, apparently, given them to any terrorist network to use against us) then perhaps—especially given your open plan to wage war on them for nearly the past year—this would indicate that in fact the Iraq regime is not an out-of-control mad dog that needs to be taken down to make the world safe? And alternately, even if we grant both possession of the weapons and malice, could you explain why you believe that launching a war will not increase, rather than decrease, the danger to America and the world that these weapons you insist exist will be used for a horrific and murderous purpose? That is, even if all your suspicions about Saddam are perfectly true, why is your preferred reaction the appropriate one to help ensure the safety of Americans? Why wouldn't the launching of a war hasten, not eliminate, this evil man's propensity to commit mass murder?
Thank you for your time, Mr. President.