The Importance of PR
Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics posts a great bit of insight on the President's speech. It was a successful speech as speeches go. He wasn't convinving any Harry Reids or Ted Kennedys, but he was trying to buy back the Joe Liebermans, and maybe even the Joe Bidens. But the success of his speech is much liek the success of pouring a level foundation for a skyscraper. It means everything to get it right, but it's pretty much a worthless slab of rock without a useful building on top of it.
I don't know why Bush gave up the public relations war this year. He let about nine months go by with no response to his critics. And the criticisms leveled were pretty harmless. A bunch of unfounded conclusory statements about his presidency, the economy and the Iraq War. But the axiom that an unrebutted accusation is an admission set in, giving feckless political comments and stunts a very real effect on his poll numbers.
Bush has made abundantly clear through his actions that he does not govern by polls. But his inaction on the PR front has proven that he cannot govern without them.
When public support shrinks for the single issue upon which Bush has staked his presidency (forgetting that it tanked on all issues), he loses any possibility of winning on any of his other legislative initiatives, such as making permanent the tax cuts that have helped the economy, or opening up new sources of domestic energy, or perhaps even a serious effort at real Social Security reform.
Without public support behind him, the President's opponents have no incentive to cooperate, nor any significant fear of reprisals from voters. Public support is the wind in the sails--and not the compass--of any successful presidency.