Following a sincere tribute to Coretta Scott King, who died Tuesday, the president moved into a type of moral lecture, challenging us to live up to the ideals we profess and to realize that we can't "retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life."
Speaking of America's leadership role in the world, the president again connected the freedom of others with our own freedom, asserting the more democracies there are, the safer we will be. And he reiterated a point he has often made, which is that we must not think that by leaving the terrorists alone, they will leave us alone. He pledged the United States will not retreat or surrender to evil and "We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it."
He took a thinly veiled shot at liberal critics in Congress, saying, "There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second guessing is not a strategy." On Iraq, he said he is "confident in our plan for victory and we are winning."
He called for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and defended the National Security Agency's monitoring of phone calls between terrorists overseas and people inside the United States. He called it a "terrorist-surveillance program."
President Bush asked Congress to "put aside partisan politics" in order to solve our problems. Has anyone checked to see if hell has frozen over yet? When that happens partisan politics in Washington will evaporate. The president has called for fiscal responsibility, but it will only occur the day politicians put the national interest ahead of their own.
The first half of the speech was an effective, even persuasive argument for not tiring in the war on terrorism.
The domestic portion of the speech was pretty much what we hear every year from every president. Mr. Bush again called for energy independence and trotted out the hydrogen car idea. He said America must free itself from its addiction to Middle East oil. But imports of oil from the Persian Gulf make up less than one-fifth of all oil imports to the United States and just 12 percent of total U.S. oil demand. What is needed is a reduction in consumption. That is unlikely to happen without a breakthrough with alternative fuels, or until gasoline hits four dollars a gallon at the pump. In addition to hydrogen cars, the president promised more research into ethanol as a petroleum substitute. Since the Arab oil boycott during the Carter administration, we've been hearing about alternative energy sources, including ethanol, wind farms and hybrid cars. Maybe Mr. Bush should ask ExxonMobil to use some of its $36 billion profit last year to lead the way.
More tax breaks for health savings accounts is good, but his proposal to spend more money on education is not. He asked that 70,000 high school teachers be trained to lead Advance Placement courses in math and science and bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms. School choice would have been a better proposal, allowing parents to send their children to public or private schools where they can get the best education. Why are government schools performing so poorly despite record expenditures? It is because they are a virtual monopoly. By suggesting the country needs outside math and science teachers, the president is effectively conceding that math and science teaching inside schools is substandard.
Overall, it was a good speech, full of optimism, can-doism and warnings that the war on terror is far from over. How much of it gets turned into action is up to Congress and the amount of pressure from their constituents. Too many expect government to do for them what they could do for themselves. That is why government has grown so large and costs so much. That is why it won't be until the spending goes down substantially that the economy will reach its full potential.
The state of the union may be good, as the president said, but it could be much better with some of that bipartisan cooperation the president says he wants, but is unlikely to get.