Reaction: The State of the Union

Reflecting the dire political circumstances in which he now finds himself, Bush delivered a State of the Union address last night that was "limited in ambition and political punch," and devoid of major new bold proposals.

Reflecting the dire political circumstances in which he now finds himself, Bush delivered a State of the Union address last night that was “limited in ambition and political punch,” and devoid of major new bold proposals. Rhetorically, Bush offered areas for bipartisan cooperation on some domestic issues, particularly on energy, education, and immigration. Yet, on the issue at the forefront of the minds of most Americans–Iraq–Bush spent half of the speech trying to defend his deeply unpopular and misguided escalation strategy, and trying once again to rally the nation by linking the conflict to the events of 9/11. In doing so, the speech did little to change the fact that Bush finds himself “politically weakened and increasingly isolated” from much of the nation.

  • The Bush health care plan ignores the cost and coverage issues for everyday Americans. Bush last night said he would propose offering a standard tax deduction for all who buy insurance, a step “that would make only a tiny dent in a huge problem.” The initiative is aimed at rewarding people who buy their own health insurance, consistent with the president’s notion that “private health insurance is the best way to meet” the needs of Americans who seek coverage. But for those who need health care the most–including the 47 million uninsured in this country–the private market fails to provide affordable coverage. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, people who aren’t in perfect health are largely unable to buy individual health insurance.
  • President Bush used new language to offer more of the same on energy and climate change. Bush proposed cutting the projected use of gasoline by 20 percent over the next 10 years, in addition to offering a nearly fivefold mandatory increase in the production of ethanol and other alternative fuels for cars and trucks. While Bush’s call for an increase in alternative fuels and tougher mileage standards holds the possibility for progress, he was largely silent on the need for energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, the new standards Bush announced may open the door to promoting the production of more environmentally-harmful pollutants, particularly liquefied coal when used as an alternative transportation fuel. For the first time, the president mentioned “the serious challenge of global climate change” in a State of the Union. Yet he gave no indication that he is backing off his previous denials of global warming science, and he continues to reject any binding measures to cap and reduce America’s carbon emissions that cause global warming.
  • The president once again stood in isolation on his escalation plan for Iraq. Bush devoted a large portion of his speech to defending his escalation plan for Iraq. The president claimed he chose to place 21,500 more troops into the middle of Iraq’s civil war because “it provides the best chance of success.” In reality, the escalation strategy has been recently tried and failed. During the last six months, the United States has increased–or “surged“–the number of American troops in Baghdad by 12,000, yet the violence and deaths of Americans and Iraqis has climbed alarmingly, averaging 960 a week since the latest troop increase. Addressing members of Congress, Bush said many of them “understand that America must not fail in Iraq.”

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