President Bush’s State of the Union speech tonight will be the unofficial kickoff for his re-election campaign. He’ll tell the nation, and the world, the themes and programs he plans to pursue this year and in the following four years, should voters re-elect him. The focus, as last year, will be on war and peace.
He’s certain to present an upbeat picture of the war in Iraq and probably will cast it as an essential element of the global war on terrorism and for keeping Americans safe from attack.
But we remember that a year ago in his 2003 State of the Union address, given before the war with Iraq began, he insisted, “Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al- Qaida.” And on Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, Bush said, “The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving.”
But earlier this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that no connections have been found linking Saddam to al-Qaida or other terrorists. And an October report by Iraq Survey Group leader David Kay announced it had found no weapons of mass destruction, although it continues to look.
On domestic policy, Bush rightly will hold up his excellent tax cuts, with help from federal monetary policy, as one reason the economy now is booming. And he probably will pay lip service to restraining the runaway spending of the first three years of his administration, which saw the federal budget increase at 8 percent per year on average, compared to 3 percent under President Bill Clinton. Bush might mention that something has to be done to reduce a federal budget deficit of about $500 billion.
But we’re also likely to get a Clinton-style laundry list of new programs Bush has passed or wants to fund: manned missions to the moon and Mars, faith-based programs to channel money to his supporters in the religious right, the new $1.5 billion scheme to subsidize marriage counseling, the No Child Left Behind federalization of local schools, and the just-passed prescription drug benefit for the elderly, the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson, carrying a price tag of $40 billion a year for starters.
We hope we might see a little of the George W. Bush who was elected in 2000 on promises of a humbler foreign policy and domestic-spending restraint. But this is an election year, so the ropes are unleashed for presidential boasting and pandering.