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Professors react to Bush’s State of Union

Liam Farrell | Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Notre Dame faculty voiced varied opinions to President Bush’s State of the Union Address Tuesday night; some praised the strength of parts the speech, while others criticized the policies that were introduced.

The speech was a statement of confidence, promise and protection where the President touted the renewed strength of the economy and his administration’s health care initiatives and encouraged every American to remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism and the efforts of Homeland security.

American Studies Professor Thomas Guglielmo said that the State of the Union Address should be viewed in the context of a campaign speech.

“Watching a State of the Union Address is like watching a boxing match,” Guglielmo said.

Although Guglielmo said he did not agree with Bush’s statements or policies, he praised parts of the speech.

“To be charitable, it was striking to lead off with [the Patriot Act] and he is bold and sticking to his guns on the most controversial part of his campaign,” Guglielmo said.

However, Guglielmo said he was not surprised that the type of strong assertions that marked last year’s address, including naming statistics and specific numbers of chemicals and toxins available for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, were absent.

“[Last year, Saddam Hussein] was shown as an imminent threat but a year later nothing has turned up and all he said was a quote from the Kay report which does very little [in proving his case].”

Guglielmo said this was “clearly a weak part of the speech.”

English Professor William O’Rourke criticized the address, saying Bush seemed to be defensive on foreign policy and weak on domestic issues, only reciting a “laundry list” of proposals. O’Rourke said the most interesting event of the speech was the Democrats’ applause about the impending end of the Patriot Act.

“Democrats seemed to make a point themselves,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke also criticized the beginning of the address, where Bush discussed terrorism.

“[It seemed designed] to make Americans fearful and scared to make the country more receptive of [the President’s] plans,” O’Rourke said.

Sociology professor Eugene Halton criticized Bush’s approach to homeland security and his stance on gay marriage.

Halton said he was concerned with the “erosion of freedom in America” that has resulted from the “sense [in America] that security is a technical operation that can be solved with technical apparatus” such as the Department of Homeland Security. Although Halton said there is no doubt there are real terrorists, the fact there is a missing concern with any sort of inner threat to the very freedom President Bush states to protect is troublesome. Americans have become fearful of appearing vulnerable, but to an extent that is necessary to enjoy freedom in the first place.

“[Americans] need to see ourselves as a vulnerable part of a vulnerable world and as a fellow member of the world community [for] being free necessarily means being vulnerable at some points,” Halton said, adding that security cannot be seen as “the be all and end all” of American concerns.

Halton also said he believes that the President’s statements concerning the need to overrule the acts of judges in favor of the will of the American people towards the issue of gay marriage is “dangerous.”

“[At times in American history, trusting] the opinions of the masses as better judges of right and wrong [was] precarious,” Halton said, citing civil rights legislation. He said that it is important to follow the government system as it is set up and maintain “democracy [as] the rule of law.”