President Bush -- whose approval rating has fallen to 35 percent -- seemed to borrow a page from the Team Arnold playbook when he delivered his State of the Union Address Tuesday night. The Bushies should want to mimic Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's impressive turnaround. In 2005, only one-third of California voters approved of the governor. In 2006, Schwarzenegger handily won re-election and a majority of voter approval.
How did Schwarzenegger do it? The governator admitted that he erred in holding a special election, assured voters that he got their message and promised to play better with state Democrats. Bush lacked Mr. Universe's exuberance when eating humble pie. Nonetheless, Bush was gracious as he addressed "Madam Speaker" Nancy Pelosi and acknowledged that he was addressing, for his first time, a Democratic Congress. Harkening back to the "uniter" rhetoric of his 2000 campaign, Bush observed, "Our citizens don't care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done."
As California GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim noted, Bush and Schwarzenegger both have tapped into the public's desire to "move forward" and get things done.
On the issues, Bush moved into areas that Democrats have claimed. He pledged to reduce the federal deficit -- and yes, I know that he kept signing spending bills that changed the Clinton-era federal budget surplus into a $248 billion federal deficit.
On health care, Bush did not match Schwarzenegger's call for universal health coverage. Then again, Bush probably won't have to retreat from his proposal -- as Schwarzenegger already has by not including illegal immigrant adults, as promised.
Bush and Schwarzenegger have radically different approaches on health care. Schwarzenegger went with a model that requires most employers to provide health care for their workers or pay into a fund. Bush wants more Americans to own their health care as the best way to curb rising costs.
On the policy, Bush may be right that only private policies will cut costs. But politically he is completely out of touch with how Americans think about health care -- and he said nothing Tuesday to move public opinion.
On climate change, Bush has learned that when it comes to greenhouse gas, hot air rises. President Clinton did next to nothing about automobile fuel-efficiency standards and never even tried to ratify the Kyoto global warming pact, but he said he supported Kyoto -- and that gave him big environmental cred.
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