Iraq War Tops Public's Hopes for Annual Speech

Robert Siegel visited Topeka, Kan., last week to find out what issues people wanted to hear President Bush address in his State of the Union speech. The Iraq war was the most frequent answer, followed by health care and economy.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Tonight President Bush talks to the country in his State of the Union Address. In a couple of minutes we'll hear how he's used that opportunity in the past. First, we'll hear from some people in Kansas about how they'd like him to use it tonight.

Late last week, I was in Topeka, the state capital, and I asked people what do you want to hear the President say in his annual Address? Well most of all they told me they want him to say something about the war in Iraq. Some supported the war, some didn't, but when do the troops come home was the question many wanted answered. Newspaperman Dick Boyd of the Norton Daily Telegram wants the President to do a better job of promoting this country's successes in Iraq.

Mr. DICK BOYD (Reporter, Norton Daily Telegram): Just to reiterate that yes, we are doing well and the Iraqi people have made our soldiers are heroes over there and they love having us there and we are making progress.

SIEGEL: When people in Topeka weren't talking about Iraq they turned to issues of money, welfare and health. Sandy McAdams works for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Ms. SANDY MCADAMS (Kansas Department of Health and Environment): Is Medicare still going to be around when I'm ready for it?

SIEGEL: Been following the drug plan and what's happened with it?

Ms. MCADAMS: I haven't really been following the drug plan all that closely. However, I have a mother-in-law who is, you know, under the Medicare plan and we're trying to figure out which of the 41 plans we have to decide on.

SIEGEL: 24-year-old Jeff Brandenburg is laid off from a job with a moving company in the town of Eudora, Kansas.

Mr. JEFF BRANDENBURG (Kansas Resident): Try to help people find some better jobs around here, because he's worried about everything else in other countries but not here.

SIEGEL: Kay Rucker is retired. When I asked her what the President should say in the State of the Union Address, she immediately snapped, get out of Iraq. And then she turned to domestic issues.

Ms. KAY RUCKER (Retired Kansas Resident): Get our economy going again and not have all our car dealers going down the drain.

SIEGEL: Another Kansan, 26-year-old Angela Parkhurst, was in the military until three years ago. Her husband still is. She wants the President to provide answers tonight in his annual address.

Ms. ANGELA PARKHURST (Kansas resident): What I'm interested in hearing him say is what his plans are for getting the troops home from Iraq. We can't just pick up and leave, you know, we've got to maintain some kind of mission over there, but I've also heard rumor of them bringing to a duty station almost like Korea. And, you know, if there's any intention of things like that or, you know, what their long term plans are, basically.

SIEGEL: Eric Peterson is a local radio sportscaster. What does he want to hear about tonight?

Mr. ERIC PETERSON (Radio sportscaster): Tax reform. Maybe not necessarily tax cuts, although I personally think that's a fairly good idea too, but at least, you know, getting things reformed so that the system is easier for both the consumer and also the government to be able to live within the means that they set for themselves.

SIEGEL: The Iraq war was high on Sue Williams's mind. She's in her sixties and uses a wheelchair because she has arthritis in her knees. No words by George Bush could comfort her. She says the country has declined.

Ms. SUE WILLIAMS (Kansas Resident): I would like to hear him say that we have more jobs and I'd like to see things get back to normal.

SIEGEL: When were things last normal?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I don't know. I remember back in the '50s when it seemed like it was very normal.

SIEGEL: Then there's Ginger Heftley, who's also in her sixties. I asked her, what should the President say about the state of the union?

Ms. GINGER HEFTLEY (Kansas Resident): I think the state of the union is just fine. I think he's doing a good job.

SIEGEL: What do you think he should urge the Congress and the nation to do when he addresses us?

Ms. HEFTLEY: Be patient. We'll get there. We need to stick with the war in Iraq. Get it finished. We need to stay for the long haul.

SIEGEL: And in terms of domestic affairs, the economy, what would you like to hear him say?

Mr. HEFTLEY: Buy American. Help the victims of all the natural disasters. Be generous.

SIEGEL: People in Topeka, Kansas, talking last Friday about what they'd like to hear in the State of the Union Address.

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