He sure didn’t leave the Democrats much room to maneuver. When George W. Bush delivered his first State of the Union address–a two-ply speech divided between a so-called war on terrorism and a supposed war on the recession–he depicted himself as a Rooseveltian president, as in both (Republican) Teddy and (Democrat) Franklin Delano.
In Speech One, Bush warned the war on terrorism–now targeting “tens of thousands of trained terrorists” throughout the world, in jungles and in cities–has only just begun and may extend for years beyond his time in office, and he declared himself a roughrider ready to take this war to nations that are “threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.” Never referring to Osama bin Laden by name, he announced that North Korea, Iran and Iraq–especially Iraq–were in his crosshairs and noted, “I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.” In other words, if those wimpy coalition partners don’t have the stomach for this, if Americans, as heroic as they were on and after September 11, are not be ready to invade Baghdad, none of that will matter. Bush will still lead the charge.
In Speech Two, he came across as a New Dealer. Without providing details, he called for extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage, for strengthening Head Start and early child development programs, for enhanced teacher training and recruitment, for a Patient’s Bill of Rights, for extending Medicare to include coverage of prescription drugs, for protection of 401(k) plans and pension fund protection (without mentioning a certain belly-up energy company), for greater accountability within corporate America. He said he was in full favor of “jobs.” There was no standard-fare GOP rhetoric about the need to limit big-government or the wonders of unfettered, entrepreneurial capitalism.
This was calculation, not conversion. Taking a cue from Bill Clinton, Bush has learned the value of strategically appropriating portions of the rhetoric and policies of his foes. His Medicare drug prescription plan is meager. It would devote about $77 billion for medication for only the poorest of senior citizens. Even Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert has suggested spending $300 billion in this area. His Patient’s Bill of Rights? Bush, no surprise, didn’t say how far he is willing to go in permitting consumers to sue HMOs. And while he urged the lawmakers sitting before him to work “on these important domestic issues in the same spirit of cooperation we have applied to our war against terrorism,” Bush was not above sticking it to the Democrats by pressing those items that cause them to see red: ballistic missile defense, Social Security privatization, a pro-industry energy bill that plunders the Alaskan wilderness, and his tax cuts. (He asked Congress to make the ten-year tax-cut legislation passed last year permanent.)