Jan 312006
Authors: Vimal Patel

Reeling from his most politically brutal year to date, President Bush on Tuesday said Americans need to wean themselves off Middle East oil, train 70,000 new advanced math and science teachers to remain competitive, and seek the end of world tyranny.

"America is addicted to oil which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," he said in his sixth annual State of the Union speech. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

The president proposed the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent hike in funding for clean-energy research at the Department of Energy.

"This was a guy who demolished John Kerry for being a 'flip-flopper' and this was an astonishing flip flop," said Bill Chaloupka, political science chair, about Bush's newfound call for oil independence.

It was also slightly suspect that Bush tied America's national security to dependence on Middle East oil, he said, because four of the five major suppliers of petroleum to the U.S. – Venezuela, Canada, Mexico and Nigeria – aren't from the region. Only Saudi Arabia is.

Bush and previous American presidents have been criticized for tolerating alliances with human rights violators, including Saudi Arabia, to gain access to cheap oil.

"By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past," Bush said.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, oil prices skyrocketed. As oil trades for about $68 a barrel, gas prices in Colorado are hovering around $2.26 per gallon, up from $1.84 this time last year, according to ColoradoGasPrices.com.

To compete in a global economy, America should train 70,000 new advanced math and science teachers and bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, he said.

"If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world," he said.

But like his re-election campaign, the president's State of the Union speech dealt largely with national security and America's role in the world.

Political scientists said that made perfect sense.

"That fits the overall strategy in a speech like this," said John Straayer, political science professor. "You don't wander into an area where you're going to have a hard time explaining the situation. You use rhetoric and topics that can portray you in a positive light."

Bush did not talk about specifics in Iraq, including cost or a date for possible withdrawal of American forces.

More than 2,200 Americans have died in Iraq and 16,000 have been wounded. Since this time last year, 805 Americans have died in the desert country.

"Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."

Bush warned against America's disengagement in world affairs.

"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting," he said. "Yet it ends in danger and decline."

Prior to the speech, Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist whose son died in Iraq, was arrested for trying to sneak an anti-Bush banner into the House chamber, CNN reported.

Most of the address was a "rally around the flag" speech, said Michele Betsill, assistant professor of political science.

"The whole first half was spent laying out all the threats we faced," she said. "It's a strategy that people use to divert attention from things that are going poorly at home."

Betsill said she didn't hear many specifics about the proposals the president made, including in his call for reduced energy dependence.

"A lot of proposals were about doing new research and not really doing anything about it," she said.

The president said Iran is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions and is a sponsor of terrorism. The president spoke directly to the Iranian people.

"We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom," he said. "And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

The president asked Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and he also defended his controversial decision to wiretap Americans suspected of terrorism.

"Previous presidents have used the same Constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority," he said.

Democrats and Republicans have criticized Bush for sidestepping the 1978 Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and secretly wiretapping citizens without authorization from courts or Congress.

Straayer seemed cynical about the whole night.

"It was typical theatre," he said. "A huge room full of wealthy people in dark suits while the country is populated by a lot of people who are struggling to make a living and pay their college bills."

The president vaguely referred to the lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff, who ripped off his American Indian clients and illegally influenced members of Congress.

"A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust," he said. "Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility."

Betsill spent four months in Europe recently and said Europeans are weary of the president, especially his religious conservatism and references to "the creator."

Bush gave religious conservatives a nod when he reiterated his support for a complete ban on human cloning of any form.

"Human life is a gift from our creator," he said. "And that gift should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale."

In the end, Chaloupka said, the reaction to the speech, like everything political in this highly polarizing point in history, will be split along political lines.

"Your Republican friends will be saying he's a great leader and your Democrat friends will say they can't stand the guy," he said. "It's a reflection of our times."

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