(NOTE: This ran last night but we’ve redated it for today’s edition, due to its timeliness. Some newer posts are below this one.)
Just give me some more time.
You could boil down that important message referring to U.S. Iraq military “surge” as the one that’s likely to be most noted by most news outlets, mainstream media and perhaps weblogs from President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address.
Question: will he get it on Iraq policy…and in general?
Bush gave one of his less partisan and combative State Of The Union addresses amid sagging opinion polls and increasingly evaporating political capital. He delivered a laundry-list of domestic proposals, quite a few of them not too controversial. In that, his speech resembled President Bill Clinton’s later State Of The Union speeches where Clinton limited his proposals to less grandiose ideas.
But here is the part that will be most intensely discussed — including among Republicans who are increasingly souring on the Iraq war:
A politically weakened President Bush implored a skeptical Congress Tuesday night to embrace his unpopular plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, saying it represents the best hope in a war America must not lose. â€œGive it a chance to work,â€? he said.
In his hour-long speech, Bush laid out a broad agenda with bipartisan appeal that touched economic, educational and energy policies â€” even as he sought to combat strong opposition to sending more troops to the war in Iraq and an increase in the size of the military.
â€œOur country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq â€” and I ask you to give it a chance to work,â€? he said in his sixth State of the Union address. â€œAnd I ask you to support our troops in the field â€” and those on their way.â€?
Otherwise, Bush seemed to be reaching out to Democrats — as he genuinely did to Democrats in Texas and ultimately did not genuinely do to Democrats in 2001. But he shifted the tone from that of combative GOPer-in-chief to a commander-in-chief who was offering a few olive branches. The problem: in the past Democrats felt that accepted olive branches were wrapped around their throats.
But WAS Bush really conciliatory?
The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire picked up something Bush said that yours truly noted immediately: he seemed to deliberaly refer to the “Democrat” party versus the “Democratic” party. The Wire:
In the prepared text of the speech, sent out by the White House some 40 minutes before Bush ascended the House rostrum, the president was to say, â€œSome in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate â€“ and I congratulate the Democratic majority.â€? When Bush delivered the line, however, he paid tribute to the â€œDemocrat majority.â€?
Dropping the â€œicâ€? from the word â€œDemocraticâ€? may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase â€œthe Democrat Partyâ€? for months as a way of needling his opponents.
Republicans have periodically referred to their opponents as belonging to the â€œDemocrat Partyâ€? for many decades, and the phrase was a particular favorite of former Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. A recent Washington Post column filled in the backstory: according to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, McCarthy â€œsought by repeatedly calling it the Democrat party to deny it any possible benefit of the suggestion that it might also be democratic.â€?
The phrase lay largely dormant for years, however, until President Bush resuscitated it during last fallâ€™s midterm election season and made it a mainstay of his public remarks about the opposition party. It has since been widely adopted by many Republican lawmakers, conservative political activists, and conservative commentators and pundits at media outlets like Fox News.
For all of Bushâ€™s talk tonight about crossing party lines to work with the new Democratic Congress, it is the missing two letters that may offer the clearest indication of whether partisan tensions are really like to fade in the waning years of Bushâ€™s presidency.
It WAS notable. And, if intentional, it means the olive branches extended to the Democrats had some thorns in them. But this time the Democrats are (presumably) prepared to look at the olive branches before they accept them.
Indeed, Steven Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers writes:
George Bush tried to go home Tuesday night.
His goal was what he thought he left behind in Texas when he was a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. But the mythical bipartisan place he tried to reach out to in his State of the Union address Tuesday was never like the one he romanticized in Texas. It’s not what he’s built in six years in Washington. And today it’s as elusive as Oz….
….. Yet the chasm between the parties is wide and deep, the politics between them are poisonous and Bush bears much of the blame.
After reaching out to Democrats his first year, Bush governed after the 2001 terrorist attacks as the leader of a one-party state.
In Congress, his party locked Democrats out of negotiations, then hammered votes through without chance of input. …
….. The Democrats signaled in response that they’re not in the mood for compromise either – on Iraq or at home. They want Bush to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and shift the government away from the wealthy and toward the poor.
“If he does, we will join him,” said Sen. James Webb. D-Va., who gave his party’s formal response to Bush’s speech. “If he does not, we will be showing him the way.”
The question that is now becoming as much of a political cliche as the cringe-inducing term “defining moment,” is now whether the President “can be relevant.”
The answer: he most certainly can. He is the President who commands instant media time when he talks. He can request or cajole network time for major speeches. He can still use his veto (which he will do on stem cell research, solidifying the surge — the downward surge of his poll numbers, particularly among independent voters).
The question is whether Bush can stem the central problem to his Presidency: his monumental credibility gap due to statements totally ignored, complete turn-arounds in policy, assertions which proved to be false, and talk about bipartisan cooperation which came amid one of the most partisan administrations in American history.
So Bush is asking for time on Iraq because he knows time is running out. But not just on time needed so politicos and the public can see whether his revamped military strategy can work or not. Does he have time left to convince an increasingly skeptical public that what he says (a) can be believed and (b) can be achieved?
All the compliments to Nancy Pelosi and the “Democrat” majority will mean little — unless Bush’s actions show a connection between words, promises of working with Congress as a partner on key issues, and what happens the next two years.
The Washington Post’s Associate Editor Robert Kaiser offered instant analysis with readers. A few of his key reactions:
New Haven, CT: All week we were told the president was going to do this SOTU address differently, that it would be an acknowledgment of his tough political situation and not a laundry list of legislative initiatives. How exactly was this a different State of the Union? I am reminded of your comment last week about the President’s seeming lack of a relationship with reality–this speech could have happened in any year of his presidency.
Robert Kaiser: A good way to begin. This was a largely non-partisan SOTU speech, I thought. It was an attempt to change the subject, by introducing any number of ideas that might make us think about something other than Iraq. Maybe it will have that effect. I doubt it.
But it was a kinder, gentler Bush, didn’t you think?
….Victoria, BC, Canada: When he mentions, in reference to the Iraq war, that we “went into this united,” that struck me as a bit of revisionist history. As far as I remember, we entered said war against the wishes of the majority of the global community and an extremely large and vocal portion of US citizenry. We did so amidst massive protests both at home and abroad. So why is a comment like that even worth making? It removes credibility from the rest of his statement regarding the war. Why idealize something in such a way?
Robert Kaiser: I agree with you. The administration is now trying to rewrite quite a lot of history.
Translation: Another credibility issue in his speech. Rewriting history convinces no one who’s wavering or skeptical and only provides talking points for the most loyal supporters.
Be sure to read live-blogging by our co-blogger Michael Stickings on his blog The Reaction HERE.
Also, be sure to read co-blogger Shaun Mullen’s take on the speech HERE at Kiko’s House.
A CROSS SECTION OF OTHER WEBLOG OPINIONS:
–Steven Green aka VodkaPundit did live blogging which should be read in full. A small excerpt:
9:50 “In the end, I have chosen this course of action because it promises the best chance of success.” Actually, it promises only to help things in a very long war. Then again, Bush did just explicitly mention Iran as complicit in the campaign in Iraq. And that, my friends, is the only part of tonight’s SOTU worth remembering. Provided, of course, there’s some follow-through. Any wagers?….
…Overall tonight’s SOTU was Bush’s best. I’ve been (more or less) drunkblogging these things for five years now, and they’ve almost always left a bad taste in my mouth. One, I’m happy to say, easily remedied by another sip or two of vodka. However, Bush’s best SOTU will also prove his least effective. The best he can hope for out of the new Congress is that the Blue Dog Dems help him maintain our tax cuts. Other than that, this Presidency is domestically done.
—Publius Pundit fears democracy as an actual foreign policy is “dying” but not dead.
—Classical Values live blogging. A piece of it: “The uphill battle is not winning in Iraq (which is possible), but winning in Congress. He should make these speeches more often.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I listened very closely to every word the President had to say tonight, but more than that, I watched HIM and his expressions, I watched Pelosi very closely as well as the Congressmen and Senators in attendance and I saw NO real enthusiasm from the Dems on most of what the President had to sayâ€¦I also saw, at times, almost the same reactions from the Republicans, the President has a lot of folks to convince, and I am one of themâ€¦
–cookie jill writing at skippy’s (who is in all lower case): “Not a word about new orleans and katrina victims. guess awol thinks they aren’t part of the union anymore…so he didn’t feel compelled to discuss the state they are still in.”
—Ed Morrissey did “live blogging” (does he think Saddam Hussein should do some “dead blogging?”) that needs to be read in full. Two excerpts:
What do I think? It was an effective speech, probably more so than last year. He gave the Democrats plenty of openings for opportunities for bipartisanship. He stayed within himself, and offered his relaxed and engaging style that he often displays in front of live crowds…
…..Watching the rebuttal by [Democratic Senator] Webb. He’s better than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, who tried to tag-team the 2005 SOTU response. He’s also better than his Virginia compatriot, Tim Kaine, who delivered last year’s rebuttal. It’s enough to make one wonder whether Webb may have thoughts of 2012 or 2016.
—Andrew Sullivan also did live blogging, very heavy in “content.” A small piece:
9.52 pm. “Whatever you voted for, you didn’t vote for failure.” Damn right. But this president gave us failure. He failed in his task of basic competence and decency in the war. That is why the situation in the “here and now” is so grave. Because of his delinquency and arrogance. The American people are not stupid. And their approval rating simply reflects the reality they see.
—Caliblogger takes the transcript and offers snarky comments throughout.
—Balloon Juice’s Tim: “In general the speech left me lukewarm, like heâ€™s treading water. He came, he went and my
guess is that the event will disappear into the pond of history without leaving many ripples.”
—Hot Air has a bunch of reactions. One of them: “This speech was a snooze. The SOTU, with its laundry lists of government programs and weâ€™re-here-to-help bromides, has become the most liberal moment of the year. Iâ€™m glad itâ€™s over and my wallet is still in my possession. For now, anyway.”
—Dean Esmay: “Yet another moderate speech from a moderately hawkish President with a slightly left-of-center view of domestic policy, with a few wonkishly good ideas that will mostly be shot down because he has an (R) next to his name. Should be interesting to see if there are any surprises over the next year or so. Thank God his spine is still strong on Iraq, though.”
—Riehl World View looks at Webb’s response: “Obviously unable to control themselves on even a purely ceremonial night, the Democrat Party, having recently secured but a slim Congressional majority, opted to breeze through any areas for potential common ground in three short introductory paragraphs via spokesperson Jim Webb, so as to get immediately to points of contention between the two parties. If the Bush administration is looking for compromise, they’d be wise to read that sign.”
Boring. I was bored. The audience was bored. Hell, even Bush looked bored. There were only two exciting moments the entire night – first, when they did they camera zoom in on Condi that was simply frightening, and second, Jim Webb. He was amazing. And damn good speech too. But Bush… I really think his speech got re-written at the last minute after they’d gotten so much heat for their announced plans to pretty much ignore Iraq tonight. Speaking of ignoring, what the hell happened to family values and the social conservatives. Did they get ANYTHING in the entire speech? Abortion, gone. Activist judges, gone. Gay marriage, gone. That’s the sleeper shocker of this speech, the utter cleansing of anything that would appeal to the family values crowd. They have truly become the crazy aunt in the attic, to be hidden at all costs.
–Talking Points Memo has the TALKING POINTS in advance of the speech. (If I had read this, why did I bother watching it when it told me how terrific the speech and President were?)
–Democratic Senator Dick Durbin blogs his response here on Daily Kos.
—Tom Watson does live blogging. A tiny bit 4 U:
9:44 – “Victory” is such an empty word when perched upon those pursed presidential lips.
9:47 – There’s nothing knew here. The same tired words with a higher death count. “We can expect an epic battle…” Cut to Lieberman. And they do.
9:49 – Dramatic shot of Pelosi sitting quietly with her hands folded, as Cheney and the Republicans stand and applaud.
9:52 – Sendin’ civilians abroad to where we need ’em. I thought we called that “Halliburton.”
–Eclectics Anonymous notes THIS INTERESTING OMISSION from the speech.
—Gun Toting Liberal’s Matthew O’Keefe offers a detailed analysis that needs to be read IN FULL. His conclusion is blunt: “Summation on the speech at the State of the Union is thisâ€¦ Knowing that his administration lied to get us into Iraq I personally can not back sending any more of our kids into a religious war. Knowing that his hands are tied and the American people expect more of him is refreshing but once a liar it is okay to forgive, twice, ten, fifteen times is pushing the envelope of expectations. Trusting what a President says at the State of the Union speech and the fact that he never mentioned that the â€œState of the Union is soundâ€? troubles me? What does he know that we all do not? Did anyone else catch that or is it just me? Things that make you go hmmm?”
If you listened to the President on the War on Terrorism and are unwilling to give him at least six months in Iraq, then you are a mean spirited, hate filled, selfish ignoramous. This isn’t Bush’s war – this isn’t the Republicans war: this is our war – America’s war. George Bush won’t lose the war, the United States will…and as President Bush said, whatever you voted for, you didn’t vote for American defeat.
The time is now – it isn’t last year, or the year before. The time is now – it isn’t next year or the year after. We have a situation, now, in the War on Terrorism and we have to resolve this situation – and anyone who doesn’t want it resolved in America’s best interest is, well, blind to reality. It was a great speech, by a great man we are very lucky to have as President of the United States.
—Ezra Klein: “He’s weak, and you sense he knows it. The speech hit the notes it needed to and no more. It was, this time, a formality, a book report bound and delivered to Congress, just as the assignment called for. He sought checkmarks for attendance and completion, and went home.”
—The Jawa Report: “One of Bush’s better speeches. Which means the content was good, the delivery a bit lacking as usual…So do you think Nancy and Dick will become best friends after sharing that pack butterrum of Lifesavers during the speech? Hey, anything is possible.”
—Powerline’s John Hinderaker: “I thought President Bush was back on his game tonight. The speech was a reminder that it’s a good thing to be President. When he offered a sentence about Iraq that ended with the word “victory,” the Democrats had no alternative but to stand up and cheer. Apart from the ceremonial trappings, there was a good reason why so many Senators and Congressmen had to voice their approval: the President’s logic was compelling. The importance of Iraq; the disastrous consequences of failure; the grave long-term stakes in the Global War on Terror; and the need to give our new strategy a chance to succeed, are all hard to dissent from.”
—An interesting summary from No More Mister Nice Blog…
—Flashpoint: “Iâ€™ll give Bush a C+ for his State of the Union speech tonight, which is a fairly high mark for him these days. I consider the bulk of the domestic agenda he laid out to be pure rubbish. Fortunately very few of Bushâ€™s SOTU proposals ever see the light of day.”
—Sister Toldjah: “Anyone else notice how the Dems didnâ€™t stand up en masse and applaud when the President talked about the pursuit of victory and security in the WOT? Telling, but not exactly â€˜revealingâ€™ to most of us.”
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.