SOTU--A Product of Lessons Learned
Bush gave a decent State of the Union address. His speech was upbeat, and he made the case for a limited set of policies he is advancing this year. But this is a much more careful Bush than we saw in January 2005.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the speech a good deal, but I'm a pretty easy audience for this President. He needed to reach out to that 51% who disapprove of his leadership, and he needed to do it in a powerful way. Bush may have reached those who were looking for a reason to believe in him, or at least were possessed of minds more open than the nutty extremist who was ejected from the House Chamber prior to the Address. But it was not the stirring speech we saw at the convention in 2004.
My main disappointment is that Bush tends to be a risk-taker in his speeches and proposals, and when he sticks with the "risk", things tend to turn out well for him. Here, he hedged, probably as a result last year's results when he may have taken more risk than he could handle.
As has been argued before, Bush misread his mandate last year, to the point that he thought he had a specific mandate beyond what he was already doing. And last year's State of the Union involved a very ambitious laundry list of reforms that, for the most part, fell flat. A wartime president can't afford such damage to his public support. It imperils the war effort by limiting his flexibility. Here, he did his due diligence on the Iraq War, by telling us in limited terms what is going on, and that the cause of liberty is going to be pursued by the United States, whether the Dems opposed it or not. Same with the War on Terror and the NSA wiretaps. He thumbed his nose at the Dems and told them that he is going to do what he must with the legal authority he has to protect Americans from another terrorist attack. And regardless of the position held by the hawk-on-America-dove-on-the-enemy crowd, Iran is another front in the War on Terror, and retreat from it equals defeat.
And so learning a lessonhe pushed a number of very safe domestic propositions--renewing the tax cuts, renewing the Patriot Act, and eliminating earmark spending. Failing to renew the tax cut means that we get a tax increase. Nobody wants to be accused of being the stick in the mud who let it happen. The Patriot Act, notwithstanding the incoherent mouth-foaming of the left who are more interested in terrorists' privacy than our safety, is going to be something which Bush will not concede. And earmarks are becoming less and less popular as Members of Congress are being called to task about pointless wastes of money when people on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in particular are having to depend on private donations.
Here, he can mark promises kept on the Supreme Court, and can more or less declare victory in time for November 2006 by touting three or four high profile victories over Democrat opposition.
A decent strategy. Because for any success in 2006 and beyond, Bush needs a solidly Republican Congress.