Bush’s mixed bag defines election debate

After shaking dozens of hands on his way to take the podium, pausing only to hug a baby, George W. Bush delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night. The speech, initially greeted with standing ovations on both side of the aisle, soon turned into a mixed bag of statements defiantly defending past actions of the Bush administration from criticism by the opposition.

Focusing on the war on global terrorism in the beginning of his speech, Bush said, “America … is a nation called to great responsibilities” and assured the watching nation “we are rising to meet them.” Repeatedly reminding that there are still threats from terrorists, Bush also reiterated that the war in Iraq was necessary and that, on the whole, “the world is changing for the better.”

Critics of the war in Iraq will hardly be impressed by this statement no matter how often it is repeated. As the quantities of weapons of mass destruction that Bush, in last year’s State of the Union, claimed existed in Iraq have not been found, criticism of the war will continue.

Furthermore, Bush said he “will never seek a permission slip to defend the security” of America. This statement will no doubt garner him support from those that agreed with the war in Iraq, but those that feel America is increasingly isolating itself from the rest of the world, rather than working together with them, will probably chose not to vote for the president in November.

The same applies to the Patriot Act, which many have claimed is unconstitutional, as it undermines the concept of innocent until proven guilty and due process. Bush said because part of the Patriot Act expires next year, Congress should renew it, as the war on terror “will not expire on this schedule.”

By stating that it is not enough to “serve our enemies with legal papers” though, he might strengthen the points critics of the Patriot Act have made. The loss of checks and balances provided for by the Patriot Act is precisely the system that critics fear.

Another point made in the speech likely to prove controversial was Bush’s call to “defend the sanctity of marriage.” The President’s stance that “activist judges” are “forcing their arbitrary will upon the people” will, no doubt, be a center of debate in the remaining months of the presidential race.

The message that marriage is the “most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization” is one that most Americans can subscribe to, even though divorce rates have gone up continuously in recent years. Yet it may be a bad idea to categorically exclude certain couples and declare their unions not only unlawful, but also unconstitutional.

As Bush himself said in the speech, he believes “America is the land of second chance.” It remains to be seen if Tuesday night’s address will be his first step toward a second chance in office.