For once, the mainstream media’s incessant badmouthing of George W. Bush worked for him. In the day-long lead-up to his State of the Union address, news-readers previewed the speech in tones usually reserved for a crashing market or a dying patient. “Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low.” “Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Gerald Ford’s.” “[They’re] approaching Nixonian levels.”
But at the crucial moment, in a hostile chamber, the President delivered a crisp speech in a strong voice, with no fumbling or smirking in sight. Instead of the traditional laundry list of departmental initiatives, Bush limited his domestic policy projects to a solid, attainable few. He knows that the electorate and the new Democratic majority want more action in the domestic arena. Balancing the budget, cutting earmarks, cleaning up entitlements, moving toward energy independence—all of these ideas are non-controversial. His health-care proposals will be going nowhere soon (too much opposition from organized labor, which stands to lose from his plan to tax especially generous health benefits). But immigration, on which the President called for a discussion “without animosity or amnesty,” is a good bet for quick action. Now that he will be working with a Democratic majority that shares many of his views on the issue, GOP support will depend on details.
But the Bush legacy does not depend on the details of health-care policy. It will live or die by our success or failure in Iraq and in the war on terror and Islamofascism. Last night’s speech smartly separated these two struggles, and did an excellent job of mapping out the many, various threats from different branches of Islam.
Discussing Iraq, the President listed the successes of 2005, and acknowledged our enemy’s response in 2006. He memorably said, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Still, when he spoke of turning our efforts “toward victory,” the Democrats (and a few Republicans) neither applauded nor rose.
George W. Bush knows that the struggle he is waging is not a popularity contest. It is a contest of will, force, and American credibility as the world’s leader. Last night’s speech signaled that he is again in fighting form.