President Bush presented his final State of The Union Address on Monday night to a packed hall of honored guests, judges and politicians.
It was the speech one would expect from a lame duck president, and it will only reinforce the political divide in Washington. Bush addressed conservatives and conservative ideology in an election year, while taking time to lambast the Congress (read: Democrats) for not passing his past proposals.
Bush began his speech with a focus on the economy. He called on Americans to remember that in the long run our future will be bright, though the short term looks darker. He continued to push for his stimulus package, which is mostly based on tax cuts. Bush wants to see Americans keep more of their money. He warned Congress not to load down the stimulus bill with new proposals and requested his tax cuts be made permanent:
There's only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: Make the tax relief permanent. And members of Congress should know: If any bill that raises taxes reaches my desk, I will veto it.
The president continued his speech by lecturing Congress on all it has not accomplished. He requested an extension of the No Child Left Behind Act for education; he asked for renewed efforts to privatize medicine through health savings accounts; he spoke out against wasteful earmarks added by members of Congress; he urged the passage of more free trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea; he spoke for reform on big entitlement programs.
The list stretched on longer as Bush replayed all of the past legislative requests he had sent to the Congress that had failed. The speech relied heavily on conservative ideology. The president's words were aimed directly at disgruntled conservatives who abandoned the party in 2006 following years of profligate spending on expanding education, entitlements (Medicare Reform Act of 2003) and government bureaucracy (Department of Homeland Security).
Perhaps this message will energize conservatives to get behind the Republican party in both congressional and presidential contests in November. So far, the Democrats have a hefty lead in fundraising in those races.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats could not have been surprised by the president's speech. Bush put forward no peace offerings and no compromise that might help move legislation toward passage in the Congress.
The Democrats were prepared for the lack of compromise. Kansas Gov. Kathy Sebelius gave the Democratic response, calling it the American response. She urged the president to forego partisanship and work on an agenda that would benefit all of America:
This is a national call to action on behalf of the struggling families in the heartland, and across this great country. A wakeup call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, that time is running out on our opportunities to meet our challenges and solve our problems.
So Americans can expect very little to happen over the next 11 months in Congress. The president continues to offer Congress policy it finds unpalatable, and the Congress continues to ask for new ideas. Yes, it's called Washington gridlock.
Perhaps 2009 will augur change for America, but only if a new president leads the country in a different direction.