President Bush became the first American president to say, “Madam Speaker” Tuesday night, as Speaker of the House Nanci Pelosi gave him the floor just before his annual State of the Union Address.
In his speech, he urged the nation and the new, skeptical Democrat-controlled Congress to work together on a myriad of issues, including the war in Iraq.
“It would not be like us to leave our promise unkept, our friends abandoned and our own security at risk,” Bush said. “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.”
While a theme of the President’s speech was a cooperative effort between Democrats and Republicans, some Democrats say – when it comes to Iraq – they aren’t biting.
“The president took us into this war recklessly,” Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia said in a rebuttal speech minutes after Bush ended his own. “We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed.”
“We need a comprehensive approach,” Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democrat and viable presidential contender for 2008, told NBC news. “The President’s plan is not that approach.”
Bush did not, however, linger on the topic – a fact CSU political science professor John Straayer says was “predictable.”
“Iraq’s just not a good topic for him,” Straayer said. “He talked about energy; he talked about health care; he talked about a load of things before he got to Iraq.”
“It was vintage Bush,” he said. “You got to go hard; you got be tough; you got to stay with me.”
And some CSU students say they aren’t biting either.
“I was completely against sending more troops over, but I don’t see any other solutions at this point,” Jessica Caver, a senior anthropology major said. “It just seems like the numbers are getting bigger and bigger, and that worries me.”
But the president spent the majority of his speech addressing domestic issues like the federal budget, energy independence, education, healthcare and immigration.
“First, we must balance the federal budget,” Bush contended to applause on both sides of the chamber floor.
Bush also discussed the need for need to escape the clinches of foreign oil dependency by increasing efforts to facilitate bio-diesel, hybrid and electric vehicles – and by tapping into domestic strategic fuel reserves, which was received with mixed applause.
The president’s plan included decreasing the nation’s use of gasoline by 20 percent by the year 2017 and obtaining 35 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable and alternative sources in the next 10 years.
And the energy debate seems to resonate with many CSU students.
“I want to know what they are going to do about climate change and energy independence,” Craig Nugent, a freshmen open option student, said.
Bush talked about the importance of quality education in the United States and stood up for his No Child Left Behind Act.
“The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America’s children, and I ask congress to reauthorize this law,” he said.
Increased funds for struggling students as well as improvement for failing schools under NCLB were among the proposals for improving the education system.
Bush offered his thoughts on the immigration debate, proposing that the United States double the size of border control, as well as focus on “drug smugglers, criminals and terrorists rather than those trying to find jobs.”
Bush also said private healthcare is the best choice for most Americans and wants to make it available to more people by legislating changes in tax code and increasing the availability of insurance to small businesses.
Policy aside, Bush ended his second-to-last State of the Union Address by honoring some exemplary US citizens. Among those honored were former Denver Nuggets player Dikembe Mutombo and Colorado entrepreneur Julie Aigner-Clark.
Ending the speech on such a light-hearted note raises some questions, Straayer says.
“They’re wonderful people,” he said. “But this is the State of the Union. Is this a serious discussion of where the county is going, or is this showtime?”
“That has become submerged into an episode to gain political advantage, to take credit, redirect blame and gain some pageantry for the president,” Straayer added.
Theatrics aside, even Democrats have a reason to celebrate after the president notorious for his unwavering conservative ideology spoke to congress and the nation.
Ellen Steiner, a senior social work major and president of the CSU Young Democrats, expressed concerns with an increase in troop in Iraq but was elated to see a female speaker handing the mic off.
“It was awesome to see Nanci Pelosi presiding up there,” she said.
Associate news managing editor J. David McSwane and staff writer Emily Polak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org