Back at the start of the 1970s, President Nixon made a determined bid to split the antiwar movement. His strategy was to present himself as an environmentalist, a friend of Mother Earth. He celebrated Earth Day, founded the Environmental Protection Agency and, in so doing, proved himself a greener president than any since. (Watergate soon overwhelmed him, and the environmental movement displayed no appetite to defend their crusader.)

Listening to Bush on Tuesday night, I wondered whether he was trying to play the same game. How many Greens today dreamed they would hear George Bush call for more investment in "revolutionary solar and wind technologies," let alone "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."

One problem is that Bush also called for money to go into coal plants (supposedly "zero emission") and "clean, safe nuclear energy." No green would buy that sort of package, even if there were any serious program of public investment behind it, let alone any realistic chance of such programs surviving in Congress.

It was like that with the whole of his State of the Union address. His substantive policy proposals were a forlorn parade of ghosts: "energy independence," a souvenir of the Carter era of the 1970s, when the White House briefly ran on solar power (very efficiently, be it said), until Ronald Reagan made it his first order of business, after taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1981, to tear the solar panels down.

Bush's call to reduce U.S. "dependence" on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent by 2025 has zero credibility.

His other proposals were equally remote from political reality, and sometimes comical. At one point he declared in ringing tones that "Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research -- human cloning in all its forms ... creating or implanting embryos for experiments ... creating human-animal hybrids ..."

"He just blew the centaur vote," I muttered to myself.

We've all heard of hybrid cars, running on gasoline or electricity, but what was this about "human-animal hybrids"? Are human-hippopotami being tested in the labs of General Foods to ensure continued and profitable voracity in an American market where humans are already dangerously overweight?

But, of course, the bulk of the president's speech was a series of defiant and sometimes incoherent raptures about the great tasks of American Empire. "Sometimes," Bush proclaimed, "it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore." What did this arc portend? The answer came in a reprise of John Kennedy's famous call in 1961 for America "to shoulder any burden" in the cause of freedom. "Once again," cried Bush, "we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed, and move this world toward peace."

In substantive terms this means the war in Iraq, which at least 60 percent of the American people would like to see their troops quit in the near future. In rhetorical terms it meant fierce presidential invective against the government of Iran and the Hamas party in Palestine, both of them denounced by Bush as undemocratic, even though their electoral credentials are at least as strong as his.

The rhetoric suggests an imminent attack on Iran. The reality is that there are 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq who would be in a lot worse trouble than they are today if Tehran decides so. Last week, after all, Iran reminded us of its ability to make life unpleasant for U.S. forces in Iraq by hosting Moqtada al Sadr for a high-profile visit, in the course of which he pledged that his militia, the al-Mahdi Army, would retaliate for any American attack on Iran. His spokesman quoted him as telling his hosts "If any Islamic state, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is attacked, the al-Mahdi Army would fight inside and outside Iraq."

Rhetorical artifice prompted Bush to acknowledge the presence in the gallery, right behind the First Lady, of the parents and widow of Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay, who was killed last month in Fallujah. The reality is that Bush's ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, is now deep in friendly negotiations with the leadership of the very Sunni insurgents who probably killed Sergeant Clay.

It was thus throughout the speech. Rhetoric and reality in America have drifted further apart than ever, and the people know it. Bush talked about a jobs boom in the United States. The people know that Ford and GM between them are laying off 60,000 workers. They know that in Chicago, 15,000 people lined up when Wal-Mart advertised 325 jobs. In Bush's six years in the White House, America has lost about 16 percent of its manufacturing jobs. The present jobs "boom" is mostly for waitresses and bartenders.

"We move forward -- optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of victories to come." That was the presidential rhetoric. The reality is that most Americans are depressed and pessimistic, with good reason. On Tuesday, the president did nothing to change their minds. Indeed, he probably deepened it.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.