As the President puts the finishing touches on his State of the Union address, he must be certain that the speech contains the right emphases.
It is predicted that more people around the world will hear this speech than any other during Bush’s presidency. While the State of the Union speech is typically more rhetorical than substantive, it does indicate the President’s priorities and foreshadow his agenda. Equally important, the President’s delivery and demeanor reveal the "state" of his presidency.
The American people want to see and hear a confident President who is tackling the nation’s problems with vigor and from a position of strength — in spite of the bitter partisan attacks in recent months.
First and foremost, he must reassure the public that we are winning the war on terror. He must convince even skeptics that it is a necessary war and that the consequences of losing are unthinkable. We need to hear a passionate defense of the administration’s policies on the war and phone surveillance of known enemies of the nation. Many people are convinced that had appropriate surveillance of suspected terrorists had been in place, 9/11 would never have happened.
Second, without talking about the scurrilous attacks from the left accusing the administration of developing a "culture of corruption," the President must unequivocally address the need for political and governmental reforms that address ethical issues as well as excessive spending and pork barrel legislation. Many conservatives are distressed at what they see as a federal spending spree; they will be appalled if Tuesday night’s address is a shopping list of new high-cost, Great-Society-type initiatives. The "ownership" initiatives are increasing entrepreneurial opportunities and strengthening the competitive edge of small businesses and corporations. This economic empowerment is empowering families as well as the nation as a whole.
Third, the speech must reflect the dynamic forward progress that has been made toward democracy, freedom and human rights around the world. The President must resoundingly repudiate the anti-Americanism that is spewing out from the far left media, celebrities and university professors. He needs also to address the content of the cable television systems and advocate "choice" — enabling family-friendly programming.
Fourth, the speech must contain a litany of positive progress on cultural fronts. This nation has seen a major reversal on many of the social issues: abortion, crime, single parenthood and welfare dependency. There has been a revival of faith and a renewal of individual responsibility that are producing significant changes in the cultural climate of America. The Left doesn’t understand that Americans are basically conservative; the elitist views of the two coasts are not shared by Main Street Americans.
Fifth, the speech must address the oil crisis and present a plan to make the United States independent of Mid-East oil and free the nation from Iran’s threats about cutting off the world’s oil supply. We need concrete technological plans for weaning us away from dependency on imported oil and specific ways to breakthrough to new energy policies and supplies.
Most importantly, the President must convey the strength of steely-eyed convictions — for his constituencies as much as for those who do not wish him well. At the same time, his general persona must be confident and strong, relaxed and at ease. The tone of the speech must be positive and optimistic. Nevertheless, he must be seen as forcefully driving his agenda forward with the cooperation and support of the leaders of his party. The speech needs to be a prelude to an all-out campaign to promote his agenda throughout the nation. The administration needs to convince the public that the President has a handle on the five crucial issues mentioned above and that the United States is living up to its role as the world’s sole remaining superpower.
In short, the President must be seen as shaping contemporary and future events both in terms of foreign policy and domestic policy. That will be hard to do in a meandering, hour-long speech that often degenerates into a laundry list of programs and initiatives. The President’s challenge will be to make the content significant, the words memorable and the tone compelling — no small task for a President with approval ratings in the 40s. This President has, in the past, risen to the occasion; perhaps this speech will provide the impetus he needs to get the nation behind him and the poll numbers back on track.