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Bush’s final state of the union

By
January 28, 2008

It’s about the economy, and the war in Iraq, and other unresolved matters that have kept the nation on edge. But President Bush’s State of the Union address on Monday is something else, too: probably his last chance to seize the public’s attention and put it to use.

Bush will pressure Congress — particularly the Senate, where he senses trouble — to finish up an economic stimulus package fast. He will talk of improved security in Iraq and reassert that he decides when U.S. troops will come. He will offer some modest new ideas and recycle others as unfinished business.

The final State of the Union of the Bush presidency will be roughly split between domestic and foreign matters. Expect few surprises and no big initiatives.

To the degree the speech favors the pragmatic over the bold, the White House offers a two-word explanation: Blame Congress.

Bush’s efforts to overhaul Social Security and immigration died on Capitol Hill, but not just because of Democratic opposition. He also ran into walls put up by members of his own party. Heading into the speech, White House press secretary Dana Perino said it is unrealistic to expect Congress to take on big problems.

“They haven’t been willing to do it in the past several years; there’s no reason to think that they would do it this year,” she said.

The White House strategy now is to go after what’s left of that elusive common ground.

Bush has 12 months remaining, and an even shorter window for legislation this election year.

So he will push Congress to pass some short-term economic aid and make permanent his first-term tax cuts, which are due to expire in 2010. He will call for housing reform, better health care and veterans’ care, alternative energy development and renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law.

The domestic section of Bush’s speech will also remind the nation of his ideas on climate change, faith-based programs and stem cell research. When he pivots to foreign matters, Bush will emphasize progress in Iraq, and repeat that troop withdrawals will happen when they won’t undermine Iraq’s success.

He will also comment on Iran, Middle East peace, the spread of democracy and the U.S.-led fight against disease and hunger in poorer nations.

A pervasive current of the address will be trusting and empowering Americans. It is a theme Bush has wanted to emphasize in a speech for months.

Of course, the buzz about town concerns the next presidency, not this one.

As long as he commands the military and retains veto power, Bush remains relevant. Yet his clout is slipping. That is the political reality given his approval ratings, which are near the worst of his presidency, and his outsider role in the campaign for the 2008 presidential nominations.

The top Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, will be on hand. Those two alone will draw most of the reaction shots shown on television. A leading Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, is staying in Florida, where Tuesday’s Republican primary will shorten Bush’s news cycle.

Ahead of the speech, top Democrats sought to frame expectations for it.

“As we await President Bush’s final State of the Union address Monday night we know one thing for sure: that cherished faith in America has been greatly diminished, and with it, our ability to respond to the critical challenges that threaten our security,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Bush’s tone will vary by topic.

On the economy, Bush is expected to praise the bipartisan deal that his administration brokered with House leaders. It would provide rebate checks to 117 million families and $50 billion in incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Senators, however, want to add elements, like boosting food stamp or unemployment benefits, that they say will produce more meaningful change.

The speech gives Bush a way to urge the Senate not to delay — an idea that might resonate with millions of anxious families.

Bush’s language is expected to be tougher when it comes to something else he wants from Congress: the extension of a law that allows surveillance of suspected terrorists. The current eavesdropping law, which allows government surveillance of phone calls and e-mails involving people in the United States, expires Friday. Bush is clashing with the Senate leadership over safeguards as well as legal immunity for companies that helped the government spy on American citizens.

The Senate is expected to take a key vote on the bill just hours before Bush speaks, so the White House may adjust the speech on the fly. Otherwise, the address is essentially locked down at roughly 45 minutes long.

Bush went through another practice run in the White House theater on Sunday, among the last steps of a process that lasts for months.

The making of the speech is highly collaborative, with a hands-on role by the president.

Near the end, as outlines turn into final drafts, Bush adjusts the wording in the Oval Office with speechwriters and other advisers.

“He’s a heavy editor,” said his chief speechwriter, Bill McGurn.

Bush will eliminate items he deems to be dropped in without logic — “cram-ins,” he calls them. He’ll even advise on placement of applause lines. Sometimes, language is cut because the rhythm doesn’t flow when Bush practices. He favors a direct approach.

“We obviously try to look for stirring language, but I don’t think you’ll get the stirring line if you look for it,” McGurn said. “If you aim for it, what you get is something tinny and false and fake, and everyone sees it. Our main goal is to take the policy, take the philosophy, and write it in the president’s voice.”

8 Responses to Bush’s final state of the union

  1. bryan mcclellan

    January 28, 2008 at 8:51 am

    If there is any justice left in this world each time smirky approaches a microphone it will go inexplicably dead and remain so until he steps away! Heavy editor my ass.

  2. WWWexler

    January 28, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Any elected official who stands and claps for this idiot should be considered to be a co-conspirator and at the very least ought to be challenged at the ballot box during their next election cycle. That goes for both sides of the aisle.

    The state of this Union is that we are royally screwed and if you don’t know that, you have just returned from another planet. And if you don’t know how we got here, you should go back to that planet, please, because we don’t need your help in solving it.

    If you want to know when Bush is lying this evening, just watch his lips. If they’re moving, he’s lying. I have read elsewhere that he is going to spend the last year of his term trying to build his legacy. All that means is that we’re going to need a lot more garbage bags to sweep up the shattered remains of the USA when he finally leaves office in a year.

    -Wexler

  3. Sandra Price

    January 28, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Anyone who stands up and agrees with Bush must answer one enormous question.

    Why if Islamic Terrorists have been a threat to America since 9/11, did the White House not close the borders in America north and south?

    There is only one rational explanation and that is that there never was a threat from the Middle East and those planes who hit the buildings were all a part of the plan to attack Iraq after we made a half-assed attempt to get OBL. Now we have McCain running on an on-going war(s) which is a neoconservative plan to destroy American freedoms.

    The White House slipped up on the one action that would have sold their plans and they should have closed the borders.

    This is not simply a Republican snafu because our ports were opened to China during Clinton’s terms even after he traded our nuclear secrets with that most favored nation. The Chinese were given 99 year leases on both ends of the Panama Canal.

    How can we educate the voters to recognize what our federal government has become under Bush/Clinton/Bush with a possible Clinton added to finish the job.

  4. Flapsaddle

    January 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    A couple of points to make here:

    Why if Islamic Terrorists have been a threat to America since 9/11, did the White House not close the borders in America north and south?

    Islamic terrorists were a threat well before that, as indicated by the first attack on the WTC during the Clinton aministration. One may as well ask why he did not close the borders north and south.

    This is not simply a Republican snafu because our ports were opened to China during Clinton’s terms even after he traded our nuclear secrets with that most favored nation.

    Mr. Clinton did seem a bit chummy with the PRC, but our current administration has also been chummy with them as they fund our deficit by buying all of those T-bills, T-notes and T-bonds.

    The Chinese were given 99 year leases on both ends of the Panama Canal.

    If you check, you will find that the Panama Canal was returned to the control of that country during the Carter presidency. The Panamanians have a perfect right to lease their canal – or any portion thereof – to whoever they wish and without a by-your-leave from us.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  5. AustinRanter

    January 28, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Bush’s LAST STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

    If I wasn’t an Evolutionist…I’d head to the nearest church and give thanks.

  6. LurkingFromTheLeft

    January 28, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    How about if we just toast

    …it instead!

    …Cheers!

    …now be gone with ye Smirk/Shrub/Dumbass The 43rd/Chimp in Charge/

    LFTL

    P.S. Please do try and wear some clothes tonight

  7. Carl Nemo

    January 29, 2008 at 12:15 am

    I notice in the supplied AFP photo, Bush has his hand over his mouth. The only thing I can surmise is that he doesn’t want his “black, forked tongue” to accidently pop out, revealing his true persona; ie., son of Belial…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  8. Janet

    January 28, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Look at the bright side. This is Dumbya’s LAST State of the Union speech. And will anyone really be listening to anything he says?

    If you want to have some fun with it, while he’s speaking, fire up your computer and peruse the 2 pages of pictures on the website http://www.bushorchimp.com.