President Bush faced a chamber far more chilly and partisan than he faced in previous State of the Union addresses when his party was in power. His graciousness to the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, set a conciliatory tone necessitated not just by the new climate of contentiousness, but also by his record low approval ratings in the latest polls. Mentioning the Speaker’s late father, a former Congressman from Baltimore, as he congratulated the Speaker spoke volumes about his sensitivity to the new realities and his intentions to deal respectfully with the opposition, as did his reference to the two absent members who are recuperating.
I had to admire the President’s fortitude; he did not let the situation intimidate him. He spoke with more conviction and forcefulness than usual. There was no question about his determination to stay the course. One has to admire that steadfastness and, hope that, perhaps, history will prove him right. Certainly, it will be years before we will know the outcome of the war in Iraq. The ambivalence in the Chamber was obvious –– even among the President’s party. There were only 60 applause interruptions though usually there are at least 70.
There were three high points in the President’s remarks. (1) He presented a strong case for our involvement in Iraq. He laid down a gauntlet by revealing some of the ways that the United States has prevented further attacks since 9/11 and by listing the explicit statements of our enemies indicating their evil intent toward America. He stated emphatically that the United States must ensure our nation’s security. The key line about the war was “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in . . . Let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory.” (2) He addressed both earmarks and entitlements. The President laid the facts bare: In 2005, there were 13,000 earmarks totaling nearly $18 billion. He bluntly admitted that we are failing in our duty regarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. His solutions, though, fell far short of being either inspiring or challenging; they sounded like something a committee would come up with. (3) The conclusion of the speech consisted of stories about four people whose courage exemplifies the American spirit. All four were in the gallery and their stories truly were heartwarming. But why did he not also focus on one of the hundreds of heroes who are working to counter the nation’s cultural disintegration and the breakdown of our nation’s families?