Bush's State of Our Union

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Commentator Clarence Page looks ahead to President Bush's state of the union address Tuesday night. Page is a Pulitzer Prize winner and nationally syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune.

ED GORDON, host:

Tonight, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union Address, outlining his administration's accomplishments of the last twelve months. But after a year of war in the Middle East, devastating hurricanes at home, and a sluggish economy commentator Clarence Page says the Administration's outlook shouldn't be so sunny. In spite of all the tumult, Clarence expects the president will paint a rosy picture.

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Reporter, "Chicago Tribune"): Don't be surprised to hear a lot of positive thinking in tonight's presidential address. It is traditional, by now, for the president to declare with rock solid certainty that the State of the Union is strong, or sound, or rosy, or uptight, and out of sight. Anything less than that and people worry, and presidents don't last long when too many people worry. The Constitution calls upon the president to report annually to Congress on the state of the union.

In olden days, the president would do it in a letter to the Speaker of the House. George Washington's report was only 833 words, not much longer than this commentary. That was before T.V., of course. Today the State of the Union is a big free presidential infomercial peppered with standing ovations from partisans and aimed at selling the president. Selling this president is a tougher job than usual. President Bush is singing the second term blues. His approval ratings are low. His party's scandals are high. Polls also show more than half of the public thinks his signature foreign policy issue, the War In Iraq, was a mistake.

So, what you hear in this address must be balanced with what you won't hear. You're not likely to hear much about Jack Abramoff, one of two Republican super lobbyists to enter guilty pleas for bribery in recent weeks. Nor will we likely hear about the Republican Congressman recently indicted, or others still under investigation, including his friend Tom DeLay, former Majority Leader. We're not likely to hear grand new proposals, like his moon or Mars missions, or cars powered with hydrogen.

Second terms are a time to think small. You're not likely to hear much about Social Security reform. His proposed personal investment accounts became less popular the more he talked about them, and his Medicare drug overhaul has been met with widespread confusion and complaints. Yet, insiders say the president still wants to expand healthcare savings accounts to help the 40 million people who don't have health insurance.

His announced war on poverty after Hurricane Katrina has turned out to be the shortest war on poverty in history. Nevertheless, the president is expected to ignore calls for raising the minimum wage and call instead for making the tax affirmative for the rich, and why not?

If the president has a strength these days it is the weakness of his Democratic Party opposition. The official Democratic Party response to the State of the Union will be delivered by the new moderate governor of the conservative state of Virginia, Tim Kaine.

Pushed by their left wing to go wild against Bush in this mid-term election year, the Democrats are choosing to go mild, apparently following the old maxim, never interrupt your enemy when he is destroying himself. It would be hyperbole to say the president is destroying himself, but from where I sit the state of his second term is not strong.

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GORDON: Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Chicago Tribune.

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