Island Life by David Slack

Lost For Words

Sometimes, what's most interesting about a speech is not what's in it, but what's been left out. Consider yesterday's contribution by His Illustrious High Lord of Harken and Leader of the Intelligently-Designed Free World, Not Including France, Bush The Younger.

You didn't have to be a genius to predict that he would play the all-purpose security card, and sure enough, there was plenty of that. Plenty of sunlit uplands to gaze towards longingly as well: the word "freedom" appears no fewer than seventeen times.

It turns out you could have predicted most of the content of the speech by reading the one he gave a year go, as Michael Scherer writes in Salon:

Almost every line was an echo. In his 2005 State of the Union, Bush called for "expanded Health Savings Accounts." On Tuesday, he announced he would "strengthen Health Savings Accounts." In 2005, he promised to fund green projects, "from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol." On Tuesday, he pledged to invest in "zero-emission coal-fired power plants ... pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen ... cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol." In 2005, he promised to "ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation." On Tuesday, he pledged to prohibit "creating or implanting embryos for experiments."

But how about the words that weren't there? In the wake of a not-especially inspiring year of Presidential endeavour, and I'm thinking here of such small matters as - say - Katrina or the wire tapping, would a little humility have been in order? Failing that, at least a little empathy?

Let's do a Word search shall we?

What do we get if we enter "Sorry"? Well, we get this, which you'll be able to read clearly if you click the thumbnail to see the full size version.

How about "mistake"? Any luck there?

Nope. We'll perhaps "wrong" then.Now we're on to something!

But…no, wrong is what other people are. When they're not being traitors, of course.

How odd and strangely stunting it must feel to work in the White House for a CEO-President who lacks both curiosity and humility.

Not that it may necessarily have been much more fun to collaborate in the scripting of this week's Orewa speech. The lasting impression I'm left with by that work is neither the dutiful recitation of the National party economic mantra (gut the RMA, gut the employment laws, gut the welfare system, cut the taxes and hope like hell the invisible hand doesn't just give itself a five finger discount) or even the none-too-veiled allusion to swarthy types who bow down to Mecca and who might somehow represent the same kind of threat that is presently vexing the Danes (which suggests a pretty fragile faith in the rule of law).

Instead the thing that really leaves me wondering about the capacity of the leader of the opposition to look out ahead and past his mid twentieth century perspective is simply this: in a speech of about 5000 words which talks about the prospects for New Zealand's economy and its comparative place in the world economy, there's one word that must surely come up, and yet we waited in vain. Dr Brash repeatedly reminds us that he has a marital connection to the place.Why didn't we hear the word "China"?