It hits us at the top of the hour -- this isn't a great speech. The president is now onto a laundry list of things -- Ryan White AIDS Act renewal? -- and is fast approaching his close. What's the deal with his jaw clenching?
He evokes Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King. History, he says, is written in courage, "and we will finish well." At 9:02 p.m. he does finish. Well?
Flash impression: Too long, a little rambling in places. Much stronger in his defense of foreign policies; seems more than a little vague on domestic affairs. His defense of domestic spying program could come back to bite, and hard.
A final image: Sen. Dick Durban and the president share a thumbs-up handshake like two homeboys. Only with better clothes.
Education talk is all about big goals. Strides in math and science. Proposes to train 70,000 math and science teachers. Again, nice talk and nice goals, but is the will there to make it happen?
There's the word "compassion" again. Says America has become more hopeful in the past few years. Cites dropping crime, lower welfare rolls, drug use down, fewer abortions, drop in teen mom rates for a dozen years. He says it's "evidence of quiet transformation" (no doubt thanks to his presidency), but he's trying to have it both ways. Remember the GOP claiming Clinton sullied the country, made it dirtier? Then how come all these good things happened throughout his watch -- and since?
Cites "activist courts" now. Equal justice under the law. Gets applause by saying "hey" to Roberts and Alito. Says "judges must be servants of the law and not legislate from the bench." But what about when they legislate his way?
Gets more applause by citing Sandra Day O'Connor. Asks for prohibition on human cloning in all its forms, creating and implanting embryos for experiments. Everyone applauds and stands; it's easy political cover.
Uh-oh -- here comes ethics! Claims "both parties" have their problems, and that's true, but it dodges the fact that Jack Abramoff only gave money to Republicans, and only GOP politicians were up to their elbows in Jack A's crooked games. Bush spends less time than an applause line to cover ethics.
He wants the line-item veto. Hmm.
He says Baby Boomers are starting to turn 60, "including two of my Dad's favorite people -- me and President Clinton." Cutaway to Hillary, who smiles. Kinda.
Chides the Dems for not acting to save Social Security. They stand and applaud. Bush calls for one of them there commissions to thoroughly investigate Social Security, etc. The Dems have won; Social Security is saved for at least the next three years.
Calls for stronger immigration enforcement and border protection, and a "rational, humane guest worker program." Do the Republicans stand and applaud? Nope.
Now everyone is standing up to applaud the need for health care. Confront the rising cost of care, help people get insurance they need. Nothing specific here. Strengthen health savings accounts; a strictly partisan call. Portability of insurance. Now comes lawsuits: Pass medical liability reform this year, he tells Congress.
Energy time: America is addicted to oil, often imported from unstable regions. Oh, really? Calls for more investment in zero-emission coal-fired plants and "clean, safe nuclear technology." That last one is going to be big, just watch.
Ethanol for autos; he wants it to become competitive within six years. Everyone seems to want it.
Calls for huge reduction -- three-quarters -- by 2025 of Middle East oil purchases by the U.S. Who doesn't like that? But really, who's gonna be there through 2025 to keep pushing the goal?
Now it's the economy. Says we should not fear our economic future, "because we intend to shape it." He pauses a beat -- it must be an applause line -- but when no one applauds, he plunges on.
Insists the economy is strong. Wants his tax breaks to be made permanent. Weird grunting noises are added to the GOP applause; are they trying to be the Tool Time guy? Democrats warm their hands by sitting on them.
Still on foreign affairs. Speaks of a desire to "spread hope in hopeless lands." Talks of "compassion" and evokes AIDS in Africa; impoverished and corrupt countries; uneducated girls in hellholes. "The United States is a partner for a better life," he says. Urges Congress to show that compassion -- then immediately segues back into the need to protect us from more terror. An odd transition, that.
It's somewhat scary to see Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and the rest of the cabinet rising as one, almost applauding in unison. A few Democrats applaud his call for a renewal of the Patriot Act. Just a few. Here comes the domestic spying reference.
"Based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute," he says he has the right to spy on American soil. Previous presidents had the same power, he says. "We will not sit back and wait to be hit again," he says in his best "kick your ass" voice. Camera cut to Sen. Hillary Clinton, smiling but shaking her head.
Bush does not call it "international surveillance" but doesn't spent a lot of time on the issue. Probably best when some Republicans in Congress wonder if he's breaking the law.
He calls for "steady, bipartisan support" in Congress to "lead this world to freedom." Democrats applaud -- camera shot of Hillary, and is she chewing gum? By God, we think she is! -- but must wonder if bipartisanship means being steamrolled.
Nothing like watching Sen. Joe Lieberman, alone in a sea of unsmiling Democrats, applauding Bush's words on Iraq. "We are winning," the president says, but the Democrats are decidedly unimpressed.
No troop drops unless made by "military leaders" on the ground, not by "politicians in Washington, D.C." One might assume that would include the pols in the White House.
"Responsible criticism," yes. "Defeatism," no. In other words, as long as you're with him, you're OK. But don't dare mention anything about defeat.
Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran -- he names countries without democracies that he hasn't forgotten. A not-so-subtle list of future military engagements?
He mentions "radical Islam" and utters the name Osama bin Laden. Now they use "weapons of mass murder," not "mass destruction." WMMs, anyone?
No retreat, no surrender.
Take your first shot -- he just mentioned Sept. 11.
"Our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger ... and I will do my part." What about the GOP partisans on the Hill?
He starts with a tribute to Coretta Scott King. Smart move.
Somewhere in all that mess, Rep. Roy Blunt is probably trying to pigeonhole a few stray congressmen to see if he can win their votes for House majority leader. The president has just been introduced, and now comes the multi-minute ovation.
There's Big Roy Blunt, right behind Sen. Bill Frist. If Bush stops there will be busted noses everywhere.
Clarence Thomas just gave Bush one of those "you bad-ass" looks. Woo-woo!
So there's Sam Alito, freshly minted Supreme Court justice, gladhanding the secretary of state. There's Don Rumsfeld, guffawing about something. There's Laura Bush, looking pained (but good) in the balcony.
The pomp and pageantry is cool. It's still the president, regardless of whether he has your support.
All this pre-speech nattering is maddening. Wolf Blitzer has video of the prez and the missus leaving the White House and taking the limo to the House chamber. At leave MSNBC has Craig Crawford from the Congressional Quarterly, who speaks sense. He notes that Bush will talk about the "War on Terror" instead of the Iraq War. Always better for Bush to distance himself from a hot war that isn't popular.
Speaking of that war, something came up on "Street Talk" that deserves some space here. The wounding of ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman is certainly dark news. But is it worth this much time and space on media outlets? More than 7,600 men and women in the armed forces have been seriously wounded in Iraq. Each has a moving, compelling story about their survival. Yet we don't see many of those stories.
Is Woodruff more important than those soldiers? Of course not. But the extensive coverage of his injuries makes it seem so. Not cool.
President Bush delivers his State of the Union address at 8 p.m. Central. On CNN, Paula Zahn and Wolf Blitzer are insufferably talkative. Over at Fox it's an airing of some report from Anita Vogel about a postal event in California; Bill O'Reilly is his typical gaseous self. And on MSNBC we find commercials, commercials, more commercials. Gotta get that rev in before the speech.
OK, Keith O. is back, bitching about O'Reilly. Such odd counterprogramming, bad-mouthing the guy airing opposite your show. Now KO is doing his O'Reilly imitation. Good TV, we keep insisting. Good TV.