After months of pounding by the Democratic presidential candidates and many in the media, President Bush struck back Tuesday night. In his State of the Union speech, he did something unusual for him: He took on the arguments of critics about his foreign and domestic policies and said they are wrong.
While barely acknowledging that at least some of his antiwar critics might have been acting on principle, the president said the world and the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein and the mass murders he committed, and that there would have been serious consequences had Saddam been left in power. The president might have drifted off into defensiveness. Instead, he directly and artfully made a good case, noting in one applause line, "for diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible and no one can now doubt the word of America."
He called on Congress to make permanent his tax cuts and, in what sounded like a campaign theme, said, "Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase" when the current law expires.
On other economic matters, the president sounded less credible. He called for Congress to act as "good stewards of taxpayer dollars." But this Republican Congress has spent more than any Democratic Congress in recent memory. And this president has not used his veto pen even once to force Congress to be better stewards of the people's money. An omnibus spending bill that awaits passage is full of enough pork to gag a sow.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial the morning of the speech, the GOP has been on a spending spree that exceeds by far Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. During Bill Clinton's administration, non-defense discretionary spending rose just 2.5 percent. During President Bush's three years in office, it has jumped 8.2 percent. Having tasted such huge amounts of pork, Congress is not likely to listen to the president's call for limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent and reducing wasteful spending.