Ross Mackenzie

The week has provided sharp contrasts in the points of view offered by the nation's two principal parties. On Monday, the Democratic caucuses in Iowa; on Tuesday, the president's State of the Union address.

After six months leading the pack, Howard Dean wound up third in Iowa. He suffered the perils of the front-runner - overestimation, overexposure and late-hour recognition of his insufferable personality and maniacal views. In defeat, his grotesque delivery of no-quarter remarks recalled nothing so much as Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien's fellowship, defiantly coveting the one ring of power - so affecting had been his taste of it.

John Edwards made his way to second place on the basis of his looks, his classism and his trial-lawyer silver tongue. John Kerry, the richest in the Democratic pack, made his way to the front via a carefully cultivated image of soporific steadiness perhaps aided by caucusers' concerns about what the Bush meat-slicer might do to Deaniac baloney.

Following Iowa, the Democratic contest moved on to New Hampshire, where polls are showing the only moderate in the Democratic horde - Joe Lieberman - at a paltry 5 percent. Tuesday ended with two Democratic smoothies ripping the State of the Union as something more fitting for Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye than for this or any president of the United States.

It wasn't.

The president surprisingly continues to approach eloquence. He spoke movingly of the nation's military, of U.S. achievement and resolve in Iraq, of his determination - through "a forward strategy of freedom" - to make liberty and democracy possible throughout the Arab world. With its many allies, he said, "this great Republic will lead the cause of freedom."

He spoke of an economy "strong and growing stronger": Americans took (dollars saved from lowered taxes) and put them to work, driving this economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years. New home construction: the highest in almost 20 years. Homeownership rates: the highest ever. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high. And jobs are on the rise.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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