The President’s speech to Congress showed the direction he wants to take us.

I realize he may have sounded at times like a big-government liberal. Yes, he said he wants to spend considerably more of your money on education. He also wants to expand Medicare with new programs and use the government to provide health insurance to those who don’t have it. And, too, there was that long laundry list of new government boondoggles — supposedly to help people with disabilities, save the environment and preserve national monuments — as well as fight illiteracy, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction.

But don’t get the idea that this man is just one more big-government liberal. He emphasized his commitment to local control of schools. And he’s determined to streamline federal programs — to make government more accountable, leaner and more efficient.

In fact, he declared unequivocally, “The era of big government is over.”

Who is this?

You see, I’m describing a State of the Union speech by Bill Clinton — not George Bush’s speech last Tuesday evening. It’s just hard to detect any difference between the two because the Bush speech was very much like those of the past eight years.

Hearing the Bush speech, it’s obvious that Bill Clinton is a superior orator. But if you read the Bush speech, you’d be hard pressed to believe this isn’t Bill Clinton’s vision for America.

For example, does the statement “No senior in America should have to choose between buying food and buying prescriptions” have a familiar ring to it?

Where are we?

As with the text, the Bush presentation was virtually indistinguishable from the Clinton speeches. There was the same Nuremburg rally atmosphere — as Bush was interrupted by applause 85 times in 50 minutes, and most of the interruptions were standing ovations.

Mr. Bush introduced his wife, lavished praise on her, watched as she received the obligatory standing ovation and then described the important duties she has in his administration. Whom does that sound like?

He introduced politicians in the audience who also received standing ovations. And he presented ordinary citizens who will benefit from his program, and they received (guess what?) standing ovations.

With no touch of irony, Mr. Bush referred to the whole business as “a new approach.”

What has changed?

What really has changed? How does George Bush differ from Bill Clinton?

Will George Bush get government out of your life? Quit prying into your bank account and your e-mail? Quit shredding the Constitution in the name of compassion or the Drug War — or in a futile effort to make government-education and government-health care succeed?

No, he has no plans to restore any of your lost liberties. It’s the same old “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” George Bush is just Bill Clinton in drag.

Yes, I know there are some differences: George Bush speaks with a twang, while Bill Clinton speaks with a drawl. And George Bush is compassionate, while Bill Clinton feels your pain (or caused it, I can never remember which). But anyone who says that government — an agency of coercion and bureaucracy — can dispense compassion isn’t worthy of your respect.

This is what he promised

We shouldn’t be surprised by what George Bush wants. Throughout the presidential campaign, he proposed one new government program after another.

Perhaps you thought he was just downplaying his libertarian instincts in order to win the election. But he meant every big-government word he spoke. What you saw is exactly what you get.

He said he believed in limited government, but he never defined what the limit should be. And, obviously, he thinks we’re nowhere near the limit yet — or else he’d be proposing to reduce government, not add to it.

Yes, he says he’s on the side of “smaller government” — unfortunately, he means smaller than that of the Soviet Union.

What to do

The “small government” Republican loyalists are standing and cheering the very things they claim to be against — acting as though this is what they’ve wanted all along. But you can be better than that.

Unlike them, you don’t have to pretend that George Bush is actually promoting your freedom — or that he cares one whit more about the Constitution than Bill Clinton and Al Gore do. Even if you voted for all this, you can still walk away from it now.

And resolve that in the future you’ll never again aid in your own destruction. You’ll never again give your support to politicians who don’t make specific proposals to get government out of your life.

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