Bush recasts his major goals
His annual speech affirmed key aims abroad, but warned of oil 'addiction.'
Proposals for manned flights to the moon and Mars were not to be found in this year's State of the Union address. Instead, President Bush laid out an agenda that was grounded firmly on Earth, as he warned against isolationism, urged Americans to stay the course in Iraq, and called for expanded research into alternative energy sources.Skip to next paragraph
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The theme of American economic competitiveness also moved to the fore. The president framed much of his domestic agenda in terms of "keeping America competitive," a phrase he repeated seven times as he laid out goals for immigration, trade, healthcare, energy, scientific research, and education.
But first and foremost, Mr. Bush's speech was about the central projects of his presidency - the Iraq war and the larger war on terror - and about trying to shore up public support.
"America rejects the false comfort of isolationism," Bush said. "We are the nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed and move this world toward peace."
Since his last State of the Union address, delivered on the heels of his reelection and second inauguration, Bush experienced the worst year of his presidency - highlighted by his unsuccessful campaign to reform Social Security and a perceived slow response to hurricane Katrina. His job approval rating, above 50 percent a year ago, is now in the low 40s. The Iraq war is increasingly unpopular. Only his handling of domestic security remains a positive with the public.
"He's humbled," says Del Ali, an independent pollster.
The president took the rostrum in the House of Representatives in a more conciliatory fashion than in previous years, calling for "a civil tone" and "bipartisan solutions" on the looming fiscal crisis as baby boomers head toward retirement.
"To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of goodwill and respect for one another - and I will do my part," Bush said at the outset.
The behavior of members in the chamber, however, did not bode well for a return to comity in national politics. When Bush mentioned that Congress did not act last year on his Social Security proposal, Democrats stood and applauded in a sort of mock standing ovation. Republicans answered in kind when the president finished his sentence: "... yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away."
Bush then called for a bipartisan commission to examine the impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. "We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved," he said, earning a standing ovation from both sides.
Missing from this year's speech was the kind of sharp "good versus evil" rhetoric that had marked past State of the Union speeches. In his treatment of Iran, whose nuclear program is a cause of growing alarm, he did not draw bright lines. Instead, he highlighted a multilateral approach. "The nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons," Bush said. "America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."
In the weeks leading up to the address, administration officials had indicated that the rising cost of healthcare would be a top domestic priority for this year. But Bush's speech did not devote much more than two paragraphs to the topic. As promised, he announced his intention to strengthen health savings accounts, a tax-free vehicle that makes it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy health insurance. The administration has proposed raising the annual contribution limit to such accounts and a plan to make such accounts portable to workers who change jobs.