Pres­i­dent’s Union speech pleases con­ser­va­tive base

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow

Pres­i­dent Bush’s State of the Union speech sur­prised and pleased much of his con­ser­va­tive base by ap­peal­ing as much to them as to the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in Congress.

“He did not pan­der to the Democrats and in­de­pen­dents as some thought he would,” said New Jer­sey Rep. Scott Gar­rett, a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can who told The Wash­ing­tonTimesthathisHousec­ol­leagues ex­pressed a sim­i­lar as­sess­ment.

Con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans have grown in­creas­ingly tough and open in their crit­i­cism of Mr. Bush on ev­ery­thing from im­mi­gra­tion and the Iraq war to spend­ing and gov­ern­ment in­tru­sive­ness — to the point in some cases of open re­bel­lion. But Tues­day night he some­how man­aged to cap that dys­pep­sia, at least for the mo­ment, and draw praise from his own right wing.

Pat Toomey, pres­i­dent of the in­flu­en­tial Club for Growth, saw the speech as a largely suc­cess­ful at­tempt to reach out to Democrats and in­de­pen­dents with­out alien­at­ing Repub­li­cans.

“A good ex­am­ple was health care, which was the cen­tral fo­cus of his pol­icy,” Mr. Toomey said. “His mes­sage will ap­peal to vot­ers, the mid­dle class, Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike, be­cause it elim­i­nates an in­equity in the tax code that has pre­vented the evo­lu­tion of con­sumer-based — as dis­tinct from em­ployer-pro­vided — health care.”

“So we are ev­ery happy with his pro­posal, which will lower costs and pro­vide more choice for con­sumers,” said Mr. Toomey. “Democrats ought to like it, but I very much won­der if they to give the pres­i­dent any kind of vic­tory and I am afraid they would rather have this is­sue to use against Repub­li­cans in the 2008 elec­tions.”

Some re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives, how­ever, stopped just short of say­ing the pres­i­dent pan­dered to the Democrats in Congress.

“The top is­sues pri­mar­ily in­ter­ested the new ma­jor­ity,” said Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins. “While some of th­ese is­sues have merit, the pres­i­dent went silent on key so­cial is­sues that many Amer­i­cans care deeply about. The over­ar­ch­ing con­cern is that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is yield­ing its abil­ity to in­flu­ence the pub­lic dis­cus­sion to the lib­eral lead­er­ship of the new con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity.”

How­ever, with his pres­i­dency now in its fi­nal two years, Mr. Bush must fight to main­tain his in­flu­ence.

“Bush is al­ready a lame-duck pres­i­dent, but he is try­ing his best not to be con­sid­ered a ‘dead duck’ pres­i­dent — with no power or in­flu­ence at all,” said Mer­rill Matthews, an an­a­lyst at the In- sti­tute for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion. “He was, in essence, say­ing, ‘I am still rel­e­vant.’ Bill Clin­ton made that claim ver­bally af­ter the Repub­li­can vic­tory in 1994. Bush is do­ing that by propos­ing sev­eral ideas — many of them good and some of them more aligned with moder­ates or the left.”

Be­cause last year’s elec­tion un­der­mined Mr. Bush’s po­lit­i­cal power to push his agenda, he is mov­ing to “idea power,” Mr. Matthews said. “Con­ser­va­tives have al­ways thought that ideas are the real driv­ing force be­hind change,” he said.

As for what, if any­thing, the pres­i­dent’s sixth State of the Union will ac­com­plish, Tom Kilgannon, pres­i­dent of Oliver North’s Free­dom Al­liance, said, “It won’t ad­vance much that con­ser­va­tives care about.”

Katie Falkenberg / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Dur­ing his State of the Union ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Bush called on the U.S. not to settle for fail­ure in Iraq.

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