Cheap jokes aside (see, yesterday's blog), President Bush's final State of the Union address stole the headlines this morning despite its lack of sweeping proposals or calls to action.
In essence, the speech was a defense of his past policies and proposals while simultaneously deferring blame for shortcomings to Congress. It was an early pitch for the president's legacy as he envisions it. A quick recap on the issues Bush touched upon:
Iraq: Nothing new here, as the president promised a continuing indefinate and long-term committment. The president lauded the American-led offensive in Iraq that has reduced casualties from the highs of 2006 and 2007 to 2004 levels. However, political successes have been few and far between, with the president citing an imperfect de-Baathification law and the "Anbar Awakening" as successes to build upon. By extending his committment to a prolonged committment, Bush has effectively transferred the political ramifications of true withdrawal (and no matter when that is, there will be plenty) onto a successor.
Health care: Came down against "government-run" health care and proposes making it easier for people to acquire individual insurance instead of just through their jobs. Unfortunately, he failed to address the root of the nation's health care problem: As long as health care is a for-profit endeavor, it will continue to serve investors rather than the sick.
Economy: Many analysts expressed a bit of surprise that this was not a bigger centerpiece of the president's speech. He continued to express long-term optimism while saying the short-term will be tough. The president's long-term solution is etching in stone his tax cuts. This will be a big battle in Congress, as many representatives there feel Bush's tax cuts unfairly favor the top teir of earners.
Terrorism: The central part of the president's speech concerning the War on Terror concerned allowing warrantless wiretapping, as a six-month provision allowing the practice expires Friday. This means that no new warrantless wiretaps could happen (not, as the president suggested, that current taps would be cut off). Furthermore, Bush wants to give telecommunication companies amnesty for breaking federal privacy laws in assisting the government's warrantless spying operations. Not only would such amnesty prevent companies from being punished for breaking the law, it would effectively deny investigators the opportunity another window into the extent and nature of the government's warrantless wiretapping program during the past six years. The Congressional majority asked for a 30-day extension to further debate amendments to a more permanent wiretapping bill, but the White House and some GOPers in Congress refused. Bush essentially wants to railroad a bill through the Congress that will protect industry and his White House, while using the truncheon of national security (and being tough on terror) as his leverage in an election year.