In times of prosperity we Americans prefer our leaders to be demagogues. This probably has something to do with our obsession with television and movies. Nowhere else in the world - civilized or otherwise - do citizens accumulate so much of their knowledge through sight and sound.
Some of us adored President Clinton because he floated into our living rooms in the form of a well-groomed picture. He was adept at suggesting greatness with an image, a catchphrase and a blow-dried hairdo, as opposed to substance. In short, he was as hollow and appealing as a television image.
In times of prosperity, we can afford to be so frivolous.
Since Sept. 11, we cannot.
So the occasional stammer that crept into President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night was of little consequence. No longer is anyone making a big deal out of his verbal clumsiness.
Plainly, what matters is that the president conveyed a broad and decisive plan to address the economy, expand the military budget, bolster homeland security and extend new benefits to the jobless.
In short, he mapped out a decisive national purpose, beginning with broadening the mission to root out terrorism. He took the aggressive step of naming Iran, Iraq and North Korea as rogue states that threaten U.S. security and he made it clear that they would be held accountable for their anti-human activities.
It does not matter to President Bush that some of the civilized world (mostly France, which has business interests in those regions) may chafe at his aggressive posture. What matters, as President Bush rightly noted, is that "time is not on our side ... [and we cannot] wait on events, while dangers gather."
His words mark a direct and potent contrast to the Clinton administration, which responded to terrorism largely with symbolic half measures. Even worse, the Clinton administration took the bizarre step of separating terrorists from the states that sponsored them. To no small degree, this emboldened rogue states to spread their tentacles across the globe.
Make no mistake; Sept. 11 was, in no small part, the result of a weak commander-in-chief.
Plainly, President Bush has a better grasp of the threat that confronts us. He understands that a pack of terrorists could easily explode crude suitcases or biological bombs in major U.S. cities.
And, just as easily, our economy and our way of life could be devastated.
During the State of the Union address, he revealed some rather sobering news, including intelligence reports of other terrorist attacks targeting U.S. nuclear power plants and plans by rogue states to create chemical weapons. He reminded us that as many as 100,000 al-Qaida-trained terrorists are still at large.
Do not expect President Bush to stick his head in the ground or to fret about global opinion, or stepping on toes or how this will play in the polls. Plainly, he knows that we are engaged in total war. His response has been one of definitive action.
This sort of substance has been sorely missed in the recent past.
It is the reason that, despite the Sept. 11 attacks and a slumping economy; "the state of our union has never been stronger."