State of the (Dis)Union

So much of what President Bush said in his State of the Union address ought to have been said and done when Republicans held a congressional majority. That especially applies to his call for a “special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties.” If such a group had been assembled shortly after 9/11, the partisanship over Iraq and the continuing war on terror might have been less bitter and the spirit of unity forged after that awful day might have lasted longer.

At the start of the run-up to the 2008 campaign, the president is unlikely to get an advisory council. Would Democrats serve on such a body if the result makes the president look good and improves Republican chances of retaining the White House in the next election? Who will pick the Democratic members? Will Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? If so, why should they not engage in some mischief by naming anti-war people like Rep. Dennis Kucinich or Rep. John Murtha? Reid might even name an anti-war Republican, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel. It seems a little late for advice, Democrats could justifiably say, when the president has gone his own way without much input from anyone outside his effectively closed administration.

The most powerful moments of the speech were about the “generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through.”

Whatever mistakes in judgment this president has made, he is right and consistent in his diagnosis of the war against those who would kill us and destroy our country and way of life. Can any of his critics present evidence to the contrary? Would even the most liberal among them claim the terrorist leaders and their fanatical followers do not mean what they say, since they have repeatedly demonstrated it before and after 9/11? Do any of them seriously believe that if the United States were to prematurely withdraw from Iraq, al-Qaida and Iran would not take advantage of the resulting power vacuum and establish a terrorist state from which even more horrible attacks could be launched against the United States and American interests worldwide?

On energy, this is a speech that we have heard in various forms since the Carter administration. Yes, we need more fuel-efficient cars. President Bush wants to reduce gasoline usage by 20 percent in 10 years. He also called for “stepping up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways and doubling the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.” This Democratic Congress isn’t about to approve drilling in Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico when a Republican majority was unable to approve similar proposals.

Making health care more widely available, along with saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid sounds good, but anything with the words “tax breaks” for businesses is unlikely to pass this Congress.

The president should forge an alliance with conservative Democrats who were elected last fall precisely because they are not liberals. Such a strategy might circumvent the liberal House and Senate Democratic leadership, which would find it difficult to penalize them because without them there would likely be no Speaker Pelosi.

The president was his usual gracious self, noting the historical moment with the first female speaker and how Pelosi’s father, the late Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., watched Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman deliver State of the Union speeches from the same rostrum. But don’t look for congenial reciprocity from Democrats. Their eyes are on the White House and a number of them are running for president.

The state of the union may be strong, but between the parties and in some cases within the parties, there is a great deal of disunion. The president’s address might have called for concord, but, because of his low poll numbers, he is unlikely to get it, unless he can demonstrate real progress in Iraq. Given the domestic political realities, however, he has less than six months to do that. And al-Qaida is betting and plotting against him.