Article II, Sec. 3 of the U.S. Constitution says that the President, “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Tonight, President Bush did just that, setting forth his vision and plan for the nation in a 53 minute address to the Congress.
The most poignant moment in the speech occurred when he recognized the mother of slain soldier Byron Norwood, who was killed last year in Iraq during the attack on Fallujah. In an unscripted but emotionally powerful moment, the mother of the slain soldier leaned forward to embrace an Iraqi woman whose father was killed by Saddam Hussein. Even the President fought back tears as he watched this scene unfold in the gallery above him.
The most ambitious item on the President’s domestic agenda is his intention to overhaul Social Security. He irritated his opponents in Congress in this section of the speech, drawing loud heckles from the Democrat side of the aisle. The palpable tension in the room portends a gigantic political battle that is certain to unfold in the coming months. The President said tonight that benefits for people who are now 55 years old and older will not be affected by any of the proposed changes. The Democrats will ignore this in the coming months and will try to frighten seniors into thinking that Bush desires to cut benefits to current recipients of social security. This will be a bitter fight indeed.
I was encouraged to hear the President’s clear resolve to support a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “marriage.” This commitment has been called into question of late. In an interview with the Washington Post last month, President Bush seemed to indicate that the amendment would not be a priority as long as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act stands unchallenged in the courts. The amendment was noticeably absent from the list of top-10 legislative priorities that Senator Bill Frist released on January 24.
A group of prominent religious conservatives (including James Dobson and Gary Bauer) responded to these developments by sending Karl Rove a letter threatening to withhold support for Bush’s social security plan if he doesn’t make the gay marriage ban a priority. The President’s spokesman came out shortly after and reaffirmed the President’s commitment to traditional marriage. I think he did well again tonight to reaffirm his support for the amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
I wish that the President would use the bully pulpit more effectively in defense of the unborn. I understand the political calculation that goes into his not attending the annual “March for Life” in person. What I don’t understand is why he doesn’t try to use speeches like the State of the Union to try and win Americans to the pro-life cause. At the “March for Life” on January 24, 2005, Bush phoned in his remarks and said that “a true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts.” If he really believes that hearts have to change, then he has to use the bully-pulpit to make the case for the pro-life cause. People will not change their minds on this issue unless they are compelled to do so by force of argument. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t done that yet.
Overall, this was a great speech.