LETTER FROM MEMPHIS 

Last year it was the Main Event. So how come no one's talking about the President's State of the Union address next Tuesday?

Maybe it's because the Iowa Democratic caucuses are all in the news. Or maybe it's because the White House, in response to Paul O'Neill's "betrayal" last weekend, has been in high-spin mode all week, churning out non-Iraq "news" on a daily basis. Money apparently is no object when there's spin to be done. What are we to make of the administration's $100 billion flights of fancy about Mars ("Budgets? Who needs budgets?"), as lukewarm Republican interest in the space program goes boiling hot overnight? And what in the world is the real story behind the President's plan to spend "at least" $1.5 billion, as the New York Times reported Tuesday, on "training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain "healthy marriages""? I confess; that one floored me. How exactly do you spend $1.5 billion teaching interpersonal skills? Is this just a shameless ploy to get the American Psychotherapy Association's presidential endorsement come November? Honest, I thought I was on drugs when I read about this; if I had been, I would have sworn on Jeopardy that this was some goofball, touchy-feely program cooked up by the Democrats during the 1972 McGovern campaign... But I digress. What about the Speech? Last year, remember, we were all on pins and needles right about now, waiting for President Bush to tell us exactly why we were going to invade Iraq unilaterally. And he did. And we did. Okay, so there's the little matter that he got some of his facts crooked last time around. So what if a goodly portion of what this President said in his 2003 State of the Union address about why Saddam Hussein needed removal has since been demonstrated to be, well, to put it politely, inaccurate? Hey, it's only a speech. And there's always next year, right? And now next year is here. Yippee! So what is our President going to tell us Tuesday night? Will he focus on the "Mission Accomplished" aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom? I dunno; I have a feeling he'll be downplaying that one, and focusing on other goodies he has in store for us, now that we're gonna conquer Mars and make marriages perfect. Hey, since we're gonna spend $100 billion we don't have going to Mars by 2015, why don't we go all the way and ante up now for the few hundred billion we'll need to put men (and women, of course; no gays, though) on the moons of Jupiter by 2035? And damn, what about the environment? I've got just the ticket, one that's sure to shut up the tree-huggers: hats for bald eagles, I tell you. That's right; hats. Two billion dollars well spent, and no more needless embarassment in our National Parks. No Eagle Left Behind. Who says this White House doesn't have a heart? No, if you're like me, you're waiting with bated breath for the State of the Union address Tuesday night. Forget Michael Jackson for a moment, if you can; we're sure to get a real dose of real news when George W. Bush steps to the Capitol podium that evening, smirking like Beavis and/or Butthead, graciously acknowledging the cheers of his Congressional minions, Republican and Democrat alike. After all, this is no ordinary president we have in this country today. Nope, and if you don't believe me, just ask The Man himself. In the current issue of The New Yorker George W. Bush, his need to speak truthfully clearly overcoming his innate modesty, tells writer Ken Auletta that "no President has ever done more for human rights than I have." There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth! I don't know about you, but I'm staying home Tuesday, ordering pizza, opening up a bottle of fine zinfandel, and settling back to see and hear just what our Self-Proclaimed Glorious Leader has to tell us. It's bound to be good! And while I wait, I'm gonna click on this link right here: http://www.hpol.org/fdr/inaug/ , so I can listen to another speech from another time, just to get in the right mood. (Don't be afraid to click if you don't have sound; the words are all there, too.) Like I say, just to get in the mood... This happens to be a presidential speech, too, one given some seventy years ago, at a time much like the present, a time when the people of this country felt like their backs were up against the wall. Like today, the people of 1930s America were scared; the world they knew seemed to be unravelling around them. Worse yet, they didn't even have a color-code system to help them figure out exactly how afraid they really needed to be.... But let me tell you, they were fearful; I've heard the stories. From my father. From my uncles. There's was a difficult, dangerous time, and the man giving the speech knew it. Funny, though, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a whole different approach to troubled times than our current Glorious Leader has. Instead of distractions, he provided solutions. Instead of self-promotion, FDR promoted self-confidence in others. And instead of denying reality, he faced it, head-on, and asked America to face it with him. Just about everybody remembers what Roosevelt said in his inaugural address of March 4th, 1933, just moments after he had taken the oath of office, just three short paragraphs into the speech referenced above: "So first of all let me assert my firm belief," said the new President, leaning hard upon the podium because his legs were crippled with polio, "that the only thing we have to fear. . .is fear itself. . . nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Roosevelt goes on to say a lot of other things, of course. Please, take the time to listen, or read the whole thing; it's full of still-timely nuggets of wisdom. How about this one: "Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live." Maybe it would behoove George W. Bush to do a little reading about his predecessors this weekend, some of whom, I'm just guessing , were at least as successful as he has thus far been in the area of "human rights." Oops, I forgot; The Man doesn't read. Well, maybe he can give good direction to those who do his reading for him. For as glorious as he might think he is, our current President has a tough act or two to follow. PS Apologies to Barry Willis for stealing, many years after the fact, his "hats for bald eagles" notion. I feel certain you'll approve, Barry. Kenneth Neill is the publisher/CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., the parent company of The Memphis Flyer.

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