Here’s the complete text of the president’s State of the Union speech.
There were two distinct parts of the speech — foreign policy and America’s place in the world, and domestic policy. On the first part, an A+. On the second part, a B-. Overall, he didn’t sound like a president down in the polls, and I’d guess this will move his numbers up.
1. Bush connected every dot he needed to on foreign policy. The war in Iraq=war on terror=the march of freedom in the world=surveillance of terrorists (not domestic spying)=we will not be isolationist or protectionist. He spent the first half of the speech on this theme (even throwing in Ronald Reagan’s "evil empire" phrase) then came back to it in the end. At every great moment in history, he said, there comes a time of choice. We can decide to turn back or "end well." He made a stirring case for liberty and self-government and America’s obligation to foster those values in the world. Unless Democrats get a clue, they will never, ever win on this issue.
2. On domestic issues, the president did not, as many feared, present a long laundry list of big, expensive initiatives. His proposals on things like education, health care and energy were, all things considered, relatively modest. But he did convey the impression that the federal government has both the authority and ability to make major differences in American lives. At least he tried to frame the issues in a sensible way — to make us more competitive in the world — and he called for making tax cuts permanent, letting us keep more of our money. It would have been nice if, when painting the picture of the crisis to come when baby boomers retire, he had acknowledged how his Medicare prescription drug plan has made the crisis even worse.
3. The Democrats trotted out a moderate Democratic governor to respond to the speech. Pretty lame, but at least the extreme nuts were kept off stage. The gist seemed to be, "We have a better way." So, I guess the president’s goals are fine; the Democrats would just achieve them differently. Message I got: Democrats don’t reallly have a message.
4. Here’s the "short review" from Instapundit, which called it about like I did, "better than expected."
5. Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from the House gallery. However we score the president’s speech, this seems to be the symbol of the best the opposition has to offer.
UPDATE: Here are reactions from members of Indiana’s congressional delegation.
A COUPLE OF FURTHER THOUGHTS:
1. On wiretapping. The Democrats seem clueless that this is not a winning issue for them. Here’s what they seem to be saying: "The Bush administration is listenting in to suspected al-Qaida terrorists who might be talking to their confederates in this country. Democrats would NEVER do that." Yeah, that will win a lot of elections. When Bush talked about trying to create a better atmosphere in Washington, this is the issue I immediately thought of. Bitter partisanship has made a rational discussion of the issue almost impossible. Democrats ignore the fact that almost every modern administration, Republican and Democrat, both in war and times of peace, has used similar types of surveillance; that makes Democrats’ use of the issue to bludgeon Bush just opportunistic slime. But Republicans, in pointing this out, are interested only in defending Bush and miss an obvious point. If every president has felt able to do this, I’d say there’s a clear danger that it can be taken for granted and misused. I worry about this not because of the specifics of what President Bush is doing — it seems clearly justified to me — but because of the claims he makes that he has the authority to continue doing whatever he wants to. The war against terror is not a conventional conflict in which we can one day declare victory and rescind all the preventive measures undertaken (such as Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus during the Civil War). Whatever civil liberties we give up are likely to be gone forever. This is especially worrisome given that younger generations, used to all the openness brought by the communications revolution, have a much lower expectation of privacy than some of us older folks. But who is going to bring all this up for a good, healthy debate? Republicans aren’t inclined to, and Democrats have destroyed their own credibility on the issue.
2. On the Medicare prescription plan. I know someone who went to the Medicare Web site to pick a plan for her mother. One of the drugs — a very expensive one — was listed as costing only $25. But when the bill came, and they were charged $200, she called and was told, "Oh, that was a mistake; it should have said 25 percent" of the normal cost of $800. There’s a disclaimer on the site to the effect that "drug prices are subject to change without notice," so there is no appeal. They’re locked into that plan for a year now, and will pay a lot more than they did before this miracle plan came along. I talked to someone else whose pharmacist was either getting suicidal or homicidal — she wasn’t sure which — because of all the people who are yelling at him because of all the foul-ups. Pharmacists are used to being helpful and feeling people’s gratitude; they don’t like being the bad guys. I have heard stories similar to these two over and over. The Medicare prescription plan is the epitome of a bad idea badly executed; an unbelievably expensive government intrusion of dubious worth, to be as kind as possible, implemented in the most complicated, convoluted way possible — and it was pushed by a Republican president who then had the gall to give a speech warning of the impending crisis as baby boomers retire. This plan is going to be a dividing line, I think, between those who still know why they went to Washington and those who might be in danger of losing their way. Rep. Mike Pence voted against it. Rep. mark Souder voted for it.
UPDATE 2: Conservative columnist Robert Novak says Bush’s attempt to win the middle with his toned-down rehetoric was guaranteed to please neither Democrats nor Republicans. John Dickerson, on the other hand, says Bush was even more partisan and harsher than in last’s year’s speech. Hard to believe they’re talking about the same speech, huh?
UPDATE 3: Here’s our lead editorial for today on the speech, by my colleague Bob Caylor. Bob goes into greater detail on the domestic side.