Thirty seconds after President Bush completed his State of the Union Address on January 29 my phone rang. Not to my surprise, it was my 87-year-young mother on the line. Her first words were, "I feel proud to be an American again!"
I think a lot of Americans feel the same way. Before the speech, seven of ten Americans said that Mr. Bush’s stands on the issues "which effected them the most" were the same as theirs. (I wonder if there might have been some Democrats in that 70% majority?) Following the speech, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers increase, because he made eminently good sense.
Mom went on to discuss the probability of Bush serving a second term. "I think he will be re-elected," she said. She told me about a TV special she had seen in which women who had voted against Bush said they will vote for him in the next election. George Walker Bush has captured the hearts of the American people, if not the career politicians (who still don’t seem to understand him). He has the highest approval ratings of any occupant of the White House, both regarding his conduct of the war on terrorism (eighty to ninety percent recently) and the economy (well above seventy percent).
I don’t believe many people fully realize this yet, but our president pulled off a real coup in his speech before a joint session of Congress and assorted dignitaries. Although he was speaking to a national as well as an international audience, some of his most pointed words were directed at the elected officials in the chamber. In this he reminded me of the Star Trek character, Captain Jean Luc Picard, who is fond of saying to his subordinates, "Make it so." President Bush told Congress what he expected of them in a masterful way that they could not ignore. In effect, he commanded them to "Make it so."
The coup was not just a result of memorable phrases (although there were many), nor brilliant oratory (although he did extremely well in that area). It was a result of very effective use of psychology, public opinion, and good old-fashioned politics. Time after time he struck chords that resonate with the everyday citizens of this country. And over seventy times those politicians, many of whom hate him and everything he stands for, were forced to stand, smile broadly, and clap loudly. Had they not, they would have appeared to be sulking (which many were in their hearts).
The president forced politicians to stand and publicly agree by their applause with initiatives that he and most Americans feel are vital to our nation. If they later vote against those initiatives, their constituents will remember those vivid images of their senators and representatives agreeing with the President. And they will know them for the hypocrites that they are. Bush trapped them.
I am not so naive as to believe that many of the liberal politicos will not do everything possible to undermine the president’s initiatives. But their very public agreement (this was the most widely viewed State of the Union Address in history) will make it harder for them to do so publicly. I believe the president got the American people behind him and his priorities for our country, and they will hold their elected officials’ feet to the fire.
In this speech, Bush showed clearly that he is not only the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, but that he is very much in command of the political process in this nation. He challenged Congress to do what is right for the nation and the world and then told them, "Make it so." What were some of the challenges that Bush threw at the assembled senators and representatives?
He told them that he was not going to put up with the obstructionism Tom Daschle has practiced in the Senate any more. No, he didn’t mention Daschle by name. But his words were clearly directed at this tyrant who has consistently refused to allow important legislation concerning an economic stimulus package and energy policy to come to a floor vote. Daschle knows that many of his fellow Democrats would vote for the legislation, so he is using archaic rules to prevent the votes from taking place. Bush told him on international television, "I am a proud member of my party, but we must act first and foremost not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans."
The president outlined three major priorities: national security, homeland security and economic security.
Bush told Congress, "We need to replace aging aircraft and make our military more agile to put our troops anywhere in the world quickly and safely. Our men and women in uniform deserve the best weapons, the best equipment and the best training, and they also deserve another pay raise. My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high: whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay it." They stood and clapped as most Americans watched. They will find it hard to explain voting against this budget increase and pay raise.
"My budget nearly doubles funding for a sustained strategy of homeland security, focused on four key areas: bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security and improved intelligence. We will develop vaccines to fight anthrax and other deadly diseases. We will increase funding to help states and communities train and equip our heroic police and firefighters. We will improve intelligence collection and sharing, expand patrols at our borders, strengthen the security of air travel and use technology to track the arrivals and departures of visitors to the United States." They clapped and clapped.
"Americans who have lost their jobs need our help, and I support extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage. Yet American workers want more than unemployment checks, they want a steady paycheck. When America works, America prospers; so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs." "Good jobs must be the aim of welfare reform. As we reauthorize these important reforms, we must always remember the goal is to reduce dependency on government and offer every American the dignity of a job." Liberal politicians who truly believe that massive government spending on unemployment benefits and welfare programs is the best way to help Americans stood and clapped with all their might. What else could they do? They know that most Americans agree with the president.
"Good jobs depend on sound tax policy. Last year, some in this hall thought my tax relief plan was too small, and some thought it was too big. But when those checks arrived in the mail most Americans thought tax relief was just about right. Congress listened to the people and responded by reducing tax rates, doubling the child credit and ending the death tax. For the sake of long-term growth and to help Americans plan for the future, let’s make these tax cuts permanent." Make it so.
"The way out of this recession, the way to create jobs, is to grow the economy by encouraging investment in factories and equipment, and by speeding up tax relief so people have more money to spend. For the sake of American workers, let’s pass a stimulus package." If you want to be re-elected, make it so.
Lest I be accused of being too serious, I would like to share the two most amusing moments of the evening, neither of which were presidential jokes. The first came as the president was being escorted down the aisle to the podium. Tom Daschle stayed so close behind him it was embarrassing. He sported a huge grin, and made sure that every shot of the president included him. Perhaps he thought it might help his chances of becoming the Democrat presidential nominee.
The second came when the president honored his wife, Laura. Naturally the cameras panned to Hillary to get her reaction. She was scowling at the attention given to Mrs. Bush, and was not clapping. As soon as she realized the cameras were on her, she put on a great big smile and started clapping enthusiastically. It reminded me of a similar incident when her husband, former President Clinton (I love that phrase!) was joking with an aide after Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s funeral in 1996. When he saw that he was on camera, Clinton immediately adopted a somber look and wiped away a fake tear.
I was proud that the president was not ashamed to bring God and faith into his speech. For years presidents have tagged a perfunctory "God bless America" to the end of their speeches, even if they were atheists or adulterers. But other than that brief lip service, one would not know that God even existed by listening to the rest of their speeches. George Bush reminded us, "Many have discovered again that even in tragedy - especially in tragedy - God is near."
I was pleased with the thematic approach Bush took to this speech. Instead of the laundry list of money and favors to every special interest know to man which characterized Clinton’s State of the Union Addresses, our new president chose to emphasize and expand upon great themes of importance to Americans. This showed America and the world that he is a real statesman, not just another politician.
I was disappointed in the speech in one respect. The president has made it clear in other speeches and forums that he strongly believes in the sanctity of every life, including unborn children. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to emphasize that point, particularly since so many from other nations watched this speech. He missed that opportunity. I realize that he couldn’t cover every important area in one speech, but surely the murder of thousands of babies in their mother’s wombs every day was more worthy of his comments than a new volunteer program. If we express our respect for life by helping starving Afghans and punishing those who murder innocent civilians, can we not as a nation spare some respect for the lives of the most innocent among us?
Dick Gephart gave the Democrat response to the Address. He was careful to follow the liberal party line. The phrase "Damning with faint praise" comes to mind. Since 9/11 the liberals have taken every opportunity to ride on the coattails of the president’s popularity by praising his conduct of the war on terror, but... There’s always a but. "He’s done a pretty good job with the war, but he wants to give Americans a tax break," etc. Gephart’s response was no exception. He even tried to imply that the President was somehow responsible for the collapse of Enron. I got the impression that he didn’t like the speech.
I think I’ll go with Mom’s opinion. The president’s speech made me feel proud to be an American.