I suppose it’s pointless speculating about what’s going to be in Bush’s State of the Union tonight. Pointless … but fun!
Before we get to the green stuff, it’s important to understand the remarkable context of the speech.
Bush is reviled. His popularity is yet again at an all-time low in the polls. The American people have rejected him and overwhelmingly rejected his escalation of a disastrous war. His Congressional bootlickers are deserting him in droves. After six years he has no domestic accomplishments to speak of, only a foreign policy disaster of incalculable proportions.
His legacy to his party will be failure: Republicans are headed for a drubbing in 2008 that will make 2006 look like pattycakes. His legacy to the next president will be failure: whoever is elected will spend at least a term, possibly two, cleaning up the mess and managing fallout. His legacy to future generations will be failure: the U.S. is in every way less secure than when he took over, more vulnerable to everything from energy shocks to severe weather to terrorism.
He is a failure. A small, vain, vicious man backed into a corner. All his energy now is devoted to one thing: not being the guy who lost the Iraq War. He no longer hopes of winning it. He’s just scrambling to stay afloat until he can dump it in his successor’s lap. If he has to escalate to keep from losing, don’t think he won’t provoke Iran. That will be the story of the next two years.
Now to the green stuff, meaningless as it will surely turn out to be.
Here, based on various leaks, bits of evidence, and psychic projection, is what we can expect from Bush’s "bold new national strategy to confront global climate change":
- First and probably most significantly: he will mention climate change. It won’t be the first time, but it will be the least equivocal, and it will be a big deal — don’t underestimate the tear in the memetic fabric of the universe his "addicted to oil" phraseology created last year. Standard Republican meta-narratives vanished in a puff. Words matter. (For kicks, take a drink if Bush doesn’t acknowledge that global heating is caused by humans — you’ll need a drink by this point in the speech anyway.)
- The flashy story will be a boost in CAFE standards. This is viewed as a necessary concession. Its goal will be maximum cosmetic value and minimum inconvenience to American automakers. Perhaps it’ll be a boost in car standards with nothing for SUVs. Or perhaps it’ll be a scheme to do away with the current structure and set standards for every individual vehicle size. Whatever it is, it will be the least possible they think they can get away with.
- The key to Bush’s energy strategy is captured by Tony Snow’s words: "Carrots tend to work better than sticks." In plain English, that means subsidies. Expect continued largesse for "clean coal" and nuclear power, but the big symbolic gesture will be huge new subsidies for ethanol. They cost politicians nothing — there is no organized constituency pushing back against them. Most of the rhetoric in the speech will be devoted to research into cellulosic ethanol, but most of the money will go to Big Corn.
- Bush won’t let us forget that energy security means boosting "domestic production," i.e., drilling every-damn-where in America a drill will fit. He’ll talk about offshore drilling and drilling in the Gulf, but I wonder if he’ll have the balls to trot out the Arctic Refuge. If he does I’ll be perversely impressed.
- Scraps: there will be some gimmicky tax breaks and incentives, modest new funding for renewable energy (the kind that’s not made of corn), and lip service paid to efficiency. He may also mention his silly Pacific pact. There will be nothing about Kyoto or any of its successor arrangements.
In the end, it will be sound and fury signifying nothing. Promises of "energy independence" are nothing new, and they come to nothing. Thus shall it be with climate change. All the real action is happening at the state and local level, and it will be so until 2009. But Bush’s increasingly desperate song and dance is always fun to hum along to.