Attention took a cross-country journey Tuesday from Iowa to Washington D.C. where President George W. Bush delivered an optimistic State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.
During the 54-minute speech, Bush addressed topics aimed to please his Republican base, but also tried to cross party lines by addressing topics such as new prisoner-release programs and immigrant worker laws.
But before the latter part of his speech would concentrate on a handful of hot-button issues, Bush focused early on the War in Iraq and the progress he says America is making in the war on terror.
“We have faced serious challenges together, and now we face a choice,” Bush said. “We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.”
Bush spoke directly to Congress, urging it not to let the Patriot Act, which expires next year, go unrenewed. The act, which gives the government unfettered power in acquiring records of detaining terrorist suspects, has been met with much criticism from civil rights activists.
“Twenty-eight months have passed since Sept. 11, 2001 — over two years without an attack on American soil — and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us,” Bush said. “That hope is understandable, comforting — and false.”
Bush then boasted that the war on terror and the war with Iraq have been fruitful — two-thirds of known al-Qaida leaders and 45 of 55 former Baathist regime leaders have been captured or killed, he said.
He acknowledged that some members of Congress were not supportive of his decision to invade Iraq but added that if the decision were not made, “Iraq’s torture chambers would still be filled with victims — terrified and innocent.”
The loudest applause of the night came moments later.
“For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place,” Bush said.
Bush then moved swiftly into the state of the economy. He praised Americans for showing resilience by persevering through a rash of corporate scandals, terrorism and a recession. His tax relief, he said, has curtailed unemployment and increased productivity.
“… American people are using their money far better than government would have, and you were right to return it,” he said.
On education, Bush touted his No Child Left Behind plan and made it clear that American schools need to be held accountable for the success of their students.
“Some want to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability. Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense,” Bush said. “We expect third-graders to read and do math at the third-grade level. That’s not asking too much.”
Bush then pitched a proposal he called “Jobs for the 21st Century,” a program that will encourage the assistance of high school students who struggle with math and science. It will also aim to encourage math and science professionals in the private sector to teach at the high school level.
Appealing to his conservative base, Bush said he believed Americans should have the right to manage their own Social Security, that health care should stay privatized, that faith-based initiatives should be supported with government funds and that marriage should remain between a man and a woman.
“If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process,” Bush warned, in respect to gay marriage. “Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”
Bush concluded his speech: “Our nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of all mankind.”
Following Bush’s speech, USF students and professors gave their reaction to the president’s words.
International Affairs professor Steven Tauber said Bush’s comments on certain issues like drug testing in school and the implementation and continuation of the Patriot Act leave no doubt about his feelings.
“I think it was pretty clear that he favors more government control over privacy and individual liberty,” Tauber said. “In his discussion of the Patriot Act, he didn’t recognize any of the abuses that have resulted from the act.”
Senior Basak Ozdemir, a member of USF’s PRIDE Alliance, says she has felt first-hand the implications of Bush’s disregard for certain civil rights.
Ozdemir and her girlfriend went to Vermont last month, where they were granted a civil union. The union itself is meaningless in Florida and is more a matter of principle for her and her partner, she said. Bush’s speech Tuesday left her angry.
“It’s like he called every single gay person out there the devil or a nonbeliever,” she said. “He can think of liberating another country as he sees fit, however, he cannot deal with a simple ideal in his own country?”
But Tuesday’s speech wasn’t just about issues Bush has faced during the last year, it was also about the upcoming election. Political science professor Kiki Caruson said Tuesday was Bush’s perfect opportunity to contrast the Democratic hopefuls that have saturated recent news coverage.
Bush will have to wear two hats from now on, Caruson said. From now until November, he is not just the president, he is a presidential candidate.
“While all these Democrats are sort of slugging it out with each other, he can start on his campaign without the distraction from within the party,” Caruson said.
Danielle Higginbotham, Chairwoman of USF’s College Republicans, was pleased with the outcome of Bush’s speech late Tuesday night.
“It’s probably one of the most moving State of the Unions that I’ve heard in a long time,” she said.
Most notable to her was Bush’s assertion that America does not need a “permission slip” to defend itself.
“It’s important to remember … that the No. 1 priority of George W. Bush and Congress is to make sure that United States is secure,” she said. With that in mind, “It’s very important that we make the right decision by putting George W. Bush back in office.”