The Breakfast Table

“Last Night Was Johnny-Got-His-Gravitas.’

Dear Chris, Walter,

Sorry to be late with this, but one of the F-16s flying cap over the city last night during the speech flew a little low over the house and took the roof off. Too many “go” pills, I expect.

Let’s go to the tape.

I have to say, I found myself yearning for a really Left Wing TV channel, a foil to Fox. What—let’s call it the Red Channel—could have done with the delicious information that John Ashcroft was the absent Cabinet officer last night, somewhere in a “safe location” (“I’ll bet,” my lefty Wolf Blitzer would say) with the shadow government. There’s plot enough for a Seven Days in May—in fact, I think I’ll get started on it.

Too much has been said lately about the Bush-as-Reagan’s-son business, but in this wise, he is: He’s better with a good text than off-the-cuff. Last night was Johnny-Got-His-Gravitas. His demeanor walking in and throughout the speech was that of a man cognizant of the really terrible weight pressing down upon him. This is his moment of maximum danger—things could go very, very wrong—and he gave every indication of being aware of it.

Just as I was settling into this sober realization the camera panned to Nancy Pelosi, blinding in red, demonstratively smirking as he said that he wanted to send income-tax reduction checks to American families right now. Yo, Minority Leader, where do you think you are—at a Paul Wellstone memorial service? Get it together, girl.

In the nice-line department, surely: “Instead of bureaucrats and trial attorneys and HMOs, we must put doctors and nurses and patients back in charge of American medicine.” Though tell that to the poor woman who got the double mastectomy last week and then found out the pathologist had read the wrong biopsy. Good news after all, Mrs. Jones! This was followed by a line about how no one was ever healed by a frivolous lawsuit. Maybe not, but I bet it made them feel great about providing employment for 20 more lawyers.

To judge from the alacrity with which everyone leapt to their feet when Bush hit the line about subsidized prescriptions, I’m beginning to suspect that the whole Congress is on drugs.

With respect to hydrogen-powered cars, I yearn for the day when I can pull up at the pump and see the service attendant dressed like a worker at Chernobyl and say, “Fill it up, Comrade!”

Let it not be said that our commander in chief is incapable of sang-froid (a phrase I’d like to hear him pronounce). He said we had captured 3,000 al-Qaida operatives. “Many others have met a similar fate. Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.” That’s a cool, lethal martini of a line and exactly the tone he ought to adopt in those Oval-Office-by-the-fireplace press availabilities, instead of the chesty bluster he’s been displaying. 

I clocked the first specific mention of Iraq at 9:44, which in itself was rather cool. 

On Iraq, I thought he was pretty superb. He offered specifics, down to the liter (whatever that is) of anthrax, botulin, ricin, all the other witches’ brew ingredients. And he hit some very high notes: “Once again we are called to defend the safety of our people and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility.” It would be pleasant to think that that sentiment was not greeted with a fusillade of smug raspberries in Paris and Berlin.

On North Korea, when he said, “We will not be blackmailed,” my eyebrows arched, inasmuch as that looks to be exactly what is happening. But nevermind: one evil empire at a time.

John Kerry looked like a Daniel Chester French statue of himself. John McCain did not look well. I have my disagreements with McCain, but it will be a poorer Senate without him. Even Hillary bestirred herself to standingly ovate when Bush said, “We will disarm him.”  

Finally, as I’m exceeding my word count in a positively Clintonian manner, it was so very shrewd of Bush to put it thusly: “And if war is forced upon us, we will fight. …”

On to Baghdad. By way of the U.N.