Nancy Pelosi’s sour face (see John Pod), her hopping up to applaud the reference to Darfur (see Mark Steyn)—all this was very annoying, I’ll grant. But what mattered tonight were the words and performance of George W. Bush. Both proved better—dramatically better—than we had any reason to expect.
Yes, he began with some therapeutic-sounding nonsense about “making life better” (see, once again, Mr. Steyn). But listen to this: “A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy.” Or to this: “[We need to expand the econony] not with more government, but with more enterprise.” These were the most straightforward, compelling statement of the fundamental importance of free markets that this president has uttered in many months. On balancing the budget “without raising taxes,” on reducing earmarks, on reforming entitlements, on the need for school vouchers, and in presenting his plan to restore tax neutrality to health spending—in nearly every word of his domestic agenda, the president proved serious, compelling, and—a word I’d almost given up associating with him—conservative.
The section on the war on terror? The best statement of his case since his speech to the nation on September 20, 2001. Whereas a year ago the president spoke about Iraq in words he might almost have used a full year earlier, tonight he was specific to this moment. He explained how we reached this point, what we face now—and what he intends to do about it. “Whatever you voted for,” he said to his audience, “you did not vote for failure.” Superb.
The speech was straightforward, solidly delivered, and cogent—a case made in full, an argument. It would have represented a fine piece of work at any time. But at this moment, when the nation is disheartened, when the president’s political opponents appear positively giddy with his standing in the polls, and when some two-thirds of Congress appears to be clamoring for retreat from Iraq—at this moment the speech represented a really splendid act of courage.