In State of the Union, Bush to begin framing legacy
Monday's address is expected to highlight improvements in Iraq, but not reforms for immigration or Social Security.
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On foreign affairs, Bush will highlight recent successes in Iraq, according to White House officials, and talk about the fact that US troops levels there will soon start to decline. He'll discuss the Middle East peace process and the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and work in mentions of US aid in the fight against global hunger and disease.Skip to next paragraph
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"He's put all of his soul and all of his might into being president, and this year will be no exception," said Perino.
That might be one of the points of this year's State of the Union – the beginning of a push to present his overall effort as president in positive terms.
After all, few people still are looking to Bush for political leadership, says George Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. Only about one-third of the country approves of his job performance. A majority of Americans believe that beginning the war in Iraq was a mistake, according to many polls. Many voters have tuned out the White House to focus on the contenders for the 2008 presidential election, Dr. Edwards says.
"He's got very little political capital," says Edwards of Bush.
Thus this final State of the Union may be one of the chief executive's last chances to argue his case before the nation. He will likely present the recent decline in violence in Baghdad as evidence that he will pass an improving situation in Iraq along to his successor. He might hold up his stimulus deal with the House as an example of how he has worked to keep the economy humming along.
"To try to begin to set the rhetorical terms for judging his presidency in the years ahead – that's what [the State of the Union] may be about more than anything else," says Mr. Mann of the Brookings Institution.
Not that Democrats will allow these assertions to remain unchallenged. Democratic congressional leaders last week produced what they called a "pre-buttal" to the State of Union, in which, among other things, they challenged the president to renounce the use of waterboarding during interrogations and to close the Guantánamo Bay prison for detainees.
Bush is certain to argue otherwise. A president's early State of the Union addresses are usually used to present grand plans; his middle ones, to support his agenda and subtly attack opponents. But nearing the end of their time in office, presidents cannot avoid being retrospective, in addition to forward-looking, says Southern Methodist University professor of political science Cal Jillson.
"I do think he will argue for sustaining much of his earlier policymaking," says Dr. Jillson.