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But I Want My Trip to Mars

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • John Ridley Emmy-Winning Commentator and Writer for Esquire

Health care initiatives. Expansion of No Child Left Behind. A balanced budget. And all done without raising taxes. Bush's SOTU address seemed less like a yearly manifesto and more like the magical centerpiece of Siegfried & Roy's spectacular comeback show. But of all the tricks Bush is promising to dazzle us with, none is more spectacularly enticing than the idea of reducing America's dependence on oil by 20% in ten years. Though he's handed the public such dependence reducing promises previously, they were backed by a trifling amount of follow through. So how is it this time, this time, the president will without fail deliver this amazing feat we've been promised?

By simply giving the ax to that bewildering, seemingly impossible Mars mission that Bush promised to deliver us back in '04.

At the time, many people asked why in the world with a war going on and money tight a Republican president would even put forth such an ambitious and expensive plan as a manned Mars shot. Now it seems clear: The president can now take that long forgotten proposal off the table (and any budgeted funds with it) and tell us all about the oil, gas, petroleum products and fuel that's being saved by NOT going to Mars.

Though in reality I don't give the Administration credit for being quite that savvy, in truth Bush is hardly the first president to set lofty ambitions which are not accomplished. For various reasons we never got Johnson's Great Society or Clinton's Health Care reform. The real issue is that beyond the minor promises that politicians routinely make then break, there is something quite insidious about ANY politician setting Kennedy-esque goals which they clearly do not have the wherewithal to achieve (The first step in reducing oil consumption is not taken by giving tax breaks to oil companies).

The real point of many of these psychological exercises is foremost, of course, to distract us (see, the war wasn't about oil 'cause we're cutting back on it!), but also to give politicians fallback positions. And in a year's time when funds need to be saved to pay for another year of the war or maintaining tax cuts (and I'll be honest, in my heart of hearts I support tax cuts, but I acknowledge they have to be accounted for somehow) the president can just remove from the budget those health care initiatives or education expansions to get the budget numbers back down to where they need to be. But won't, you ask, the public see through such chicanery? I doubt in a year from now people will much remember what was promised in this state of the union address. After all, how many people do you know who are asking as to where is their trip to Mars?

I know I still want mine.