Because this was President Bush's last SOTU, and that it comes on the heels of a bi-partisan economic agreement, the speech was understandably more conciliatory. He is, after all, in legacy-mode. There were no "Axis of Evil" line in this speech (in fact, Iran received scant attention and North Korea wasn't mentioned). There were, instead, lots of the usual lines, followed by the perfunctory applause (70 lines of applause, to be precise).
President Bush did acknowledged problems in the economy, including a housing crisis. My guess is that he fears being seen as out-of-touch, the way his father was in 1991, when a recession hit and probably cost him re-election. While most conservatives are less than thrilled over the currently proposed stimulus package, most conservatives will applaud his call to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. The real question is whether or not this is simply rhetoric -- or if he's willing to fight for them.
President Bush also spent some time talking about balancing the budget, which makes one wonder why it took seven years for him to decide this was a good idea. Along the same lines, he mentioned No Child Left behind, which most of us wish he would leave behind ...
The second-half of the speech focused on foreign policy. It is clear his foreign policy is still Wilsonian, though tonight's address was nothing compared to the second Inaugural.
Bush gets credit for changing strategies, and supporting the surge. For this reason, probably, he spent a good bit of time talking about Iraq. While a lot of conservatives have been turned-off to interventionist policies in other parts of the world, I think everyone knows we must win the peace in Iraq. The success of the surge is, I think, an area where all conservatives should give Bush a lot of credit. It is also important to note that just one year ago -- when Bush gave his last SOTU -- Iraq was a much different country. As he says:
"... Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists, there is no doubt."This is all very true, still, I think, Bush has to be careful not to over-reach with the rhetoric, for fear he will remind folks of the "Mission Accomplished" speech. For this reason, he later adds: "Our enemies ... have not yet been defeated."
Bush makes a good point that our men and women in the Armed Services ought to be able to transfer their educational opportunities, particularly if they die in the line of duty.
Other interesting notes ...
Before the speech began, Chris Matthews had some interesting things to say. As Supreme Court Members were ushered in, he noted: "That has been a big Bush success. Look at the court." (He's right).
Matthews also added that if Barack Obama doesn't get the nomination, that one of the Republicans, like Mitt Romney, might try to take advantage of the zeitgeist and consider Condy Rice as a VP pick ...
During the speech when the camera panned the audience, Obama sat there respectfully, afraid to clap -- and afraid to scowl.