Often, in the days following a State of the Union address, the president travels the nation, drumming up support for his major initiatives. But President Bush's report to the country Monday night contained no big new initiatives and little to tout. With a few exceptions, on many domestic and foreign-policy issues he rehashed ideas, some of which had helped drive his approval ratings down to 30 percent.
In addition, his words were quickly overshadowed by the contest for his successor. The president's review of his tenure and hopes for this year mostly reminded Americans of the importance of the presidential campaign.
Many Americans wanted to hear encouraging, concrete ideas about ending the war, helping them find and keep jobs, securing health care, hanging onto their homes and paying for college. Instead, the president called for staying the course. For example:
• On the economy and taxes: Bush pressed for quick passage of a proposed $150 billion short-term economic stimulus package to fend off a possible recession. His only long-term solution is to make existing tax cuts permanent.
• On the Iraq war: The president insisted that the surge in troops is working and that Al-Qaida is "on the run." Many Americans question that view and want a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.
• On education: Bush called for renewal of his signature No Child Left Behind program for public schools without acknowledging the need for major changes in the controversial law. He claimed NCLB is working, citing modest test-score improvements but ignoring the continuing, unacceptably large achievement gap. Then, instead of offering more federal support to public schools to help close that gap, he proposed a $300 million voucher program for inner-city students to attend private schools. That policy, which has had trouble gaining traction, would only deepen the challenges facing public schools.
To his credit, the president offered a few recommendations that Congress, struggling with its own 18 percent approval rating, should heed. He is right to call for a reduction in congressional pet projects that receive little scrutiny, known as earmarks. On immigration, Bush continued to ask Congress for a balance between fair law enforcement and humane paths to citizenship for those whose are in the United States illegally. And he wisely supported expanded federal help for veterans and their families, as well a doubling of U.S. financial support to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa.
Bush returned several times to the theme of trust, saying he trusted the American people to know best. Yet even his own review of his tenure showed that he has inspired less-than-complete trust in his leadership. While he insisted that the state of the union "remains strong," many Americans would choose another adjective -- perhaps "unsettled.''