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Analysis: State of the Union agitated
By RON FOURNIER, AP Political Writer
Last Updated 1:36 am PST Wednesday, February 1, 2006
WASHINGTON (AP) - The state of the union is fretful.
President Bush acknowledged the public's agitated state Tuesday night when he gave voice to growing concerns about the course of the nation he has led for five years. His credibility no longer the asset it once was, the president begged Americans' indulgence for another chance to fix things.
There is no shortage: the Iraq war, global terrorism, a nuclear Iran, a stingy global economy, skyrocketing health care costs, troubled U.S. schools, rising fuel costs, looming budget deficits and government corruption. All received presidential attention Tuesday night.
In his fifth State of the Union address, Bush sought to balance his usual optimistic message with an odd-fitting acknowledgment that many Americans are suffering beneath a crush of change.
"Fellow citizens, we have been called to leadership in a period of consequence. We have entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite," Bush said. "We see great changes in science and commerce that will influence all our lives. And sometimes it can seem that history is turning a wide arc, toward an unknown shore."
Unknown and uneasy.
At a private home tucked in a quiet neighborhood in Costa Mesa, Calif., about two dozen people from all walks of life gathered to watch Bush's speech while eating tacos and potato chips. One of them, social worker Julie Carlson, said she felt "negative" about the overall state of the nation, particularly the health care system.
"There seems to be every week something that comes up, something I don't agree with or something that disheartens me," said Carlson, 29.
The problem for Bush is that few of these troubles are new. He's had five years to ease people's pain.
Nearly 46 million Americans have no health insurance, up nearly a million in the last year. Health care costs are increasing three or four times the rate of inflation.
One of the first successes of Bush's presidency was the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, but parents still wonder about the quality of education in their schools. For the first time in generations, American children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did.
Calling for less dependency on foreign oil is a State of the Union evergreen. Bush has done so in every address.
The president who promised to be a uniter, not a divider, has presided over the hyper-polarization of Washington.
Osama bin Laden has not been caught.
Weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq.
Victory in that war seems elusive, with more than 2,240 American troops killed - and counting.
The divide over Iraq spilled into the House chamber, where parents of fallen soldiers attended in support of Bush and peace protester Cindy Sheehan was arrested just before the address.
The solutions Bush offered were relatively small-bore and wrapped in familiar language: tax cuts, health savings accounts, alternative energy research and investments in education to help keep America competitive with emerging democracies; and a stay-the-course approach to fighting terrorism.
Ten months before congressional elections, Bush accused foreign policy critics of "defeatism." He also took a jab at critics in his own party on immigration.
Bush's goal in the address was to acknowledge the public's concerns, and if not solve their every problem, assure them he will try to do better.
"He's learned that the election is over - and now he's free to acknowledge that course change doesn't necessarily mean a mistake," said Republican consultant Rich Galen.
Bush spoke of the global economy and suggested that competitors like China and India are making gains on the United States. "This creates an uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears."
He said violent crime, abortions and teenage pregnancies are down in an era that has seen Americans take more responsibility - "a revolution of conscience" he called it. "Yet many Americans, especially parents, still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture, and the health of our basic institutions," he said.
The mood of the nation is unsettled. Nearly 7 of 10 American believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. Bush's job approval ratings are among the lowest of his presidency.
At the core of his political problems is his loss of credibility. Most voters believed he was a strong and principled leader in 2004, leading many to support him despite their opposition to the Iraq war and a sluggish economy.
They are no longer giving him the benefit of the doubt.
The proportion of Americans who credit the president with being honest and straightforward has fallen, as has the percentage who credit him for strong leadership qualities.
Democrats hope those numbers don't change after Bush's address. "It's an attempt to make himself healthy before the midterms," said Democratic strategies Dane Strother. Americans may be anxious, he said, "but they're not dumb."
Last edited by mikey; 02-01-2006 at 04:57 AM..
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