Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Specifics Desired From State of the Union

President Bush delivers his State of the Union (search) address to Congress and the nation on Wednesday, and while domestic issues like Social Security, tax code and tort reforms as well as education priorities are expected to get a full airing, political analysts don't expect a grand foreign policy moment a là the "axis of evil" remark of 2003.

The 2003 address, in which the president named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as critical fronts in the War on Terror (search), started the United States on a new and deadly trajectory that culminated in democratic elections in Iraq on Sunday. The president also used sweeping language in his Jan. 20 inaugural speech to address the American mission against tyranny.

But political observers say the president is more likely to get down to brass tacks than opine on broad treatises on Wednesday.

"I think there will clearly be rhetoric about the worldwide advancement of freedom, but I think there will be less of it than in the inaugural," said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute (search), which is backing the president's goal of allowing workers to voluntarily move some of their Social Security payments into private savings accounts.

"The inaugural address should be a visionary speech and the president has done a very good job of delivering the outlines of a legacy for himself," said Juan Williams, senior correspondent for National Public Radio and a FOX News contributor.

"The State of the Union is the place where he should talk in specifics," Williams told FOXNews.com. "If he used the State of the Union to replay these broad strokes he would be delivering his death sentence politically because people would begin to laugh. He is going to have to be quite specific in terms of delivering a laundry list of goals and policies he hopes to achieve in the second term."

Williams said this means more talk about Iraq (search), like how the troops are going to be adequately equipped and replenished and what happens once the Iraqi elections are completed. The White House began downplaying Sunday's election weeks ago, reminding people that even after the vote, the new National Assembly will be temporary as it creates a constitution that will lead to more permanent parliamentary elections in December.

Even after Iraq's election was deemed successful, Bush warned Sunday that the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq is still far down the road.

"Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy and we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them. We will continue training Iraqi security forces so this rising democracy can eventually take responsibility for its own security," he said.

In any case, the president, who began practicing his speech on Sunday, is likely to seize the moment on Wednesday to declare victory for democracy, say pundits.

"I assume that we will get the same persistent optimism in the face of contrary facts that we've gotten in the past," said Ellis Henican, columnist for Newsday. "I don't think we will get any frank discussion about what is now the majority view of Americans — that this war was not worth it."

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute (search), the policy think tank for the Democratic Leadership Council, said he expects the president will address Iraq's elections quite pointedly.

"He will make the point — and it's a valid one — that we have had three democratic elections in parts of the world where they are rare," Marshall said, noting votes in Iraq, Afghanistan and among Palestinians, all within the last several months. "It will give him something to point to and say this is an important milestone towards the conclusion of our mission in Iraq. I'm sure he will say that."

Williams said Americans want to hear details about the conclusion, particularly about an exit strategy. "People want more, they want meat on the bones," he said. "Especially if you are a wife or husband or parent with someone in Iraq — you want to know when they are coming home."

Analysts who spoke with FOXNews.com said despite speculation about the administration's interest in confronting Iran, viewers should not expect Bush to make any strong declarations or shifts in policy.

After the much-interpreted inaugural speech, Bush aides and even Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, assured reporters that his son was declaring a vision about future democracy throughout the globe, but was in no way putting the world on notice that the United States would be actively pursuing an explicit policy anytime soon.

On the other hand, Washington Times correspondent and FOX News contributor Bill Sammon said no one should expect Bush to backpedal from the inaugural address or speak in more humble terms during his address.

"One thing about this president, he doesn't back away from anything," he said. "Instead he comes out with both guns blazing."

Bush to Launch Flares on Domestic Policy

Bush is also expected to present a significant outline for reforming Social Security in an attempt to take advantage of the captive audience on Capitol Hill and convince Americans that Congress has to fix the decades-old entitlement program by fundamentally changing the way it works.

"We are given to understand that Social Security (search) reform will be a big focus of the State of the Union," Boaz said.

Debate is raging over how to pay for such a plan and whether privatizing some of the system would affect the benefits already promised to current workers. Details from the president have been scarce so expectations are high for some sort of blueprint during his speech.

"We're hoping to hear more about that and I think the president's leadership is required in this respect because the lawmakers are running to their various corners and the president is the only one who can come out and make a convincing case to the American people why the current system is on a collision course and why he thinks the changes would work," said Alvin Williams, president of the Black America's Political Action Committee (search), which helps to elect fiscally conservative African American candidates.

Bush told reporters last week that after focusing on the issue during his State of the Union address, he will follow up by campaigning outside the Beltway and selling his plan to key constituencies.

An issue that may not be included in the final version of the president's speech is any commitment to trying to get through Congress a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (search).

"[Bush] is certainly trying to sidestep the position he was strongly taking in the campaign," said Henican, who suggested that Bush will probably offer some "rhetorical hat-tip to the religious right" on Wednesday to solidify that constituency's support.

Supporters of an amendment say the president's socially conservative base had a big role in re-electing him and they are expecting some support in return. Matt Daniels, executive director of the Alliance for Marriage (search), which helped craft the amendment and has received pledges from the president to support it, said the media have invented this cold snap between Bush and conservatives over a gay marriage ban.

"There has been a relentless pursuit of this story of him abandoning the cause," Daniels said. "If you have been to the meetings that I have in the last week you would not feel abandoned."

Daniels said he will understand if the president doesn't make a big deal about gay marriage during the State of the Union.

"It's a matter of style, but I think [administration officials] are being judicious in how they are talking about this issue," he said.