(2004) On 20 January US President George Bush appeared before Congress to deliver the traditional state of the union address. This yearly speech gives the president a chance to announce his legislative priorities with maximum publicity: virtually everyone in the US watches the live broadcast of the speech on TV. Of course, the American president cannot make or even officially propose laws. It is up to the members of Congress to submit bills to the House or Senate, and even the Republicans in Congress are jealous①of their independence from the executive branch of government. Thus the state of the union address is basically a wish list and a PR opportunity.
Tony Auth was not terribly impressed with the president's agenda. Alarmed at the huge budget deficits caused by Bush's tax cuts, Auth represents the union (the American republic) as a ship sinking in a sea of red ink. The "captain" is oblivious of the peril in which the ship and its passengers find themselves. Rather than dealing with the deficits, Bush touts his policy of "free prescription drugs" for the elderly —— the passengers among whom the game of shuffleboard is popular. "Free lunch" alludes to the American saying "There's no such a thing as a free lunch." In other words, everything costs something and everything has to be paid for by someone; statements otherwise are ploys for gulling credulous people. But free lunch is the order of the day on the USS Union②. The president is likewise a fan of NASA's project to establish a manned base on the moon and push on to the exploration of Mars；that "spaceship" will not be cheap. And the "cash awards" for "all who don't need them" could refer to a host of Bush tax cuts.
Auth's cartoon is a comment on the odd reversal that has taken place in American politics. For several decades the Democratic Party had difficulty restraining the urge to spend, while the Republicans billed themselves as the party of fiscal prudence. The reversal began under the free-spending Reagan and continued under the deficit-cutting Clinton. But though Reagan spent a lot, he did also raise taxes. The younger Bush, Auth implies, has no patience for the advocates of prudence