(by Meghan Clyne, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – President Bush’s focus on domestic initiatives in his State of the Union address is an attempt by Republicans to co-opt traditionally Democratic issues in advance of the 2006 elections – and, amid a public discourse dominated by a long-term war, will remind voters that the GOP is the party of new ideas, analysts said.
In his fifth State of the Union, President Bush unveiled last night a series of proposals aimed at making Americans better-educated, more economically competitive, more oil-independent, and at improving the nation’s health-care system. The president also addressed Social Security reform, a key issue in last year’s State of the Union that, after opposition from Congress, had been left for dead by many on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Bush also maintained his focus on spreading freedom around the world and winning the war on terror, saying it is America’s “long-term goal” to “seek the end of tyranny in our world.” Singling out oppressive regimes in Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran, Mr. Bush also made a direct appeal to the people of Iran, which he described as “a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people.”
“Let me speak directly to citizens of Iran,” Mr. Bush said. “America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a democratic Iran.”
A scholar of Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, Patrick Clawson, told The New York Sun yesterday that the outreach was likely an effort by the administration to undermine the regime’s efforts to portray the current nuclear standoff as American hostility to the Iranian people and thereby increase popular support for the regime.
On the Middle East, the president also pledged to remain firm in Iraq, rejecting calls for a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. Only victory against terrorists, President Bush said, would bring the return of America’s soldiers, adding that withdrawal “decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.” The statement drew a standing ovation from the Republican side of the aisle.
The president praised recent elections in Iraq, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, but demanded that the terrorist organization Hamas, which triumphed in last week’s Palestinian Arab elections,” recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.” The demand elicited a standing ovation from both parties.
In addition to fighting terrorism abroad, Mr. Bush stressed the need to remain vigilant at home, urging Congress to renew the Patriot Act.
The centerpiece of the president’s address was a series of domestic proposals building on America’s economic growth, which Mr. Bush called “the envy of the world,” citing the creation of 4.6 million new jobs over the last two and a half years – “more than Japan and the European Union combined.”
Yet President Bush acknowledged concerns about the future of the American economy, singling out China and India as competitors. To keep America preeminent in the global economy, Mr. Bush said, he was unveiling the “American Competitiveness Initiative,” which will dedicate $136 billion over the next 10 years to subsidize and spur private sector investment in technological research and development, and promoting math and science education.
To make America competitive, the president said, Congress must also make his tax cuts permanent. Mr. Bush did not mention the simplification reforms he has previously called for, or the work of his tax reform commission, which has languished owing to opposition both from leftists and free-market conservatives.
The president also traced American competitiveness to robust immigration, urging support for his guest worker program while rejecting “amnesty” and insisting that the borders must be “orderly and secure.” Mr. Bush said “the Federal budget has too many special interest projects,” and urged Congress to pass the line-item veto.
Saying “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world,” President Bush also announced the “Advanced Energy Initiative,” which promotes research on hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel sources, such as ethanol from corn, “wood chips, stalks, or switch grass.” Mr. Bush said the initiative’s aim was “to replace more than 75% of our imports from the Middle East by 2025.”
The president also highlighted making health care more affordable by urging an expansion of Health Savings Accounts, allowing workers to transfer their health insurance between jobs, and by asking Congress to help reduce activist medical liability lawsuits. As The New York Sun predicted last month, the president also made a push for computerized medical records, which would reduce health-care costs and help prevent medical errors.
Reaching out to social conservatives, President Bush highlighted the confirmation of his two nominees to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, who was sworn in hours before the State of the Union. The president also pledged his commitment to the sanctity of human life, and said Americans were “concerned about unethical conduct by public officials, and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage.” He also pledged his commitment to a “hopeful society” that would help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and address the problems that plagued New Orleans before the storm.
The editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, Stuart Rothenberg, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Norman Ornstein, told the Sun yesterday that the president’s focus on health care and energy was an attempt to set the tone of the political debate in advance of this year’s midterm elections. By setting forth Republican policy on those issues, typically the purview of the Democrats, the analysts said, President Bush was likely trying to give his party the upper hand going into election season.
Those proposals met with immediate criticism from Democrats. The official party response was delivered by Virginia’s newly elected Governor Kaine, considered a rising star in the party because of his ability to triumph in a state that Republicans have carried in recent presidential elections. Mr. Kaine said the address reflected the Republicans’ “poor choices,” citing as an example the No Child Left Behind Act, which was “wreaking havoc” with American education. He also issued a scathing critique of President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq war.
Senator Schumer, Democrat of New York, said President Bush had a history of letting “grand proposals” in State of the Union addresses be hijacked by special interests, and said in a statement: “Last year’s energy plan gave Americans three dollar a gallon gasoline and record profits for the oil companies; we hope this one will be better.”
Senator Kerry, a Democrat of Massachusetts and Mr. Bush’s former presidential opponent, dismissed the president’s description of the State of the Union as “a fantasyland.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Why do some analysts say that President Bush focused on domestic initiatives in this year’s State of the Union? (para. 1 & 16)
2. How do the series of proposals presented by President Bush aim to help Americans?
3. Who is Patrick Clawson? Why does he think President Bush spoke directly to the people of Iran in his speech?
4. What four actions did President Bush call on Hamas to take?
5. What is the American Competitiveness Initiative?
6. What is the aim of the Advanced Energy Initiative presented by President Bush?
7. What was the official Democrat party reaction to President Bush’s speech?
8. What issue presented by President Bush was the most important to you? Did any aspect of the speech disappoint you? Explain your answers. (For the full text of the 2006 State of the Union address, click here.)
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