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How the third one went.


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John Derbyshire
This year’s address was notable more for form than for content. The president was confident, direct, purposeful, and unapologetic. Not campaign mode, exactly, which would anyway not be appropriate in this venue, but George W. Bush is plainly looking forward with relish to the coming contest. Not so sappy as a Clinton SOTU address, for which relief much thanks. I thought he was more relaxed than usual. I guess winning a couple of wars will do that.

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On national security we heard some fine strong phrases. I especially liked: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country,” “The United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins,” and “We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.” Yessss!

I heard much less to be enthusiastic about on the home front. There were lots of proposals to get the feddle gummint involved in things it has no business being involved in. We must “help children make the right choices.” Why don’t you let us parents worry about that, Mr. President? This kind of vaporous nanny-state nonsense is standard nowadays, though, and with any luck no legislation will come of it.

A few bones were thrown to conservatives. He urged congresspersons to be “good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” and vowed to hold the growth in discretionary spending to less than four percent. (But why not zero percent?) On the temporary worker plan, he declared: “I oppose amnesty because it would encourage further illegal immigration.” (Yes it will, but the plan is amnesty–that’s the problem.) Best and most hopeful of all, though he did not come right out for a constitutional amendment, the president took a good hearty swing at America’s very own Council of Guardians, speaking of “activist judges” exercising their “arbitrary will” in attempting to redefine marriage.

All in all, not bad. George W. Bush has hit his stride. Should be an interesting campaign.

Michael Ledeen
You could feel his delight in laying out his case, and I was struck, once again, by the transformation of this man from a modest politico to a real international leader. I do not envy the Democrats.

He really has it all now, from the easy confidence of a president who knows his subjects well, and has found his voice, to the relaxed humor and good timing of our best public orators. It was particularly impressive to see how well he reacted to the Democrats’ unfortunate effort at partisanship when they applauded his comment that some provisions of the Patriot Act would soon expire. He gave them time to expose themselves, and then hit them with his next line: but the terrorists weren’t going away.

My only criticism is that he painted the Iraqi picture in excessively glowing hues. I think he would have done better to praise what has been accomplished, but stress how much remains to be done, because Iraq cannot be “solved” by itself. It can only be truly successful when freedom defeats the whole panoply of tyrannical terror masters.

But there will be plenty of time to talk about that one. Alas.

Kate O’Beirne
Last evening’s speech didn’t have the emotional punch of the president’s previous addresses before Congress, like those delivered following the 9/11 attacks or last year’s on the eve of war (how could it?), but it had plenty of counterpunches to the Democratic challengers’ assaults. His opponents have been arguing that President Bush should be delivering an Act of Contrition rather than a State of the Union, having been such a “miserable failure” in the words of one candidate whose campaign just miserably failed in Iowa. Instead, the speech was a resolute, self-confident defense of the president’s leadership. It gave me the impression that as the race is about to begin George Bush is impatiently pushing against the starting gate, anxious to take his case to the public.

Without appearing to be defensive, the president firmly defended his actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the war against terrorism at home. The president made a powerful point about Libya’s decision to give up its WMD program when he explained that nine months of U.S. and British diplomacy accomplished what the U.N. couldn’t in 12 years. His litany of all the countries that were allies in the war with Iraq was paced to great effect.

I liked the explicit defense of the Patriot Act and the set-up that had the Democrats applauding at the mention that some provisions will expire this year–pause–and put back in their seats when the president said “the terrorist threat won’t expire on that schedule.”

My favorite lines included: “The terrorists and their allies declared war on the United States and war is what they got.” And, with the Democratic candidates all playing “Kofi, May I?”: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.”

Finally, Laura Bush is extremely pretty. With spending on his watch on steroids, is this the time to criticize professional sports? More education spending, on community colleges of all things? I wish he had said that “the era of big government is over” because he could have meant it. Two good signs: Ted Kennedy looked extremely unhappy and the president’s immigration reform was met with only polite applause.

When the president concluded by stating that our nation is strong and steadfast, I thought, “so is he.”



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