US President George Bush said today that even though the state of the union is strong, he understands why some Americans are worried in a time of war and job cuts.
“I understand there’s an anxiety about the time of war,” Bush said, trying to keep the momentum of the previous night’s State of the Union address with an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
“That’s natural, seems like to me, even though this economy is roaring. It is strong, when you recognise we’ve overcome a lot.”
Bush tried to pre-empt objections from Democrats, who are looking to regain control of the House and Senate in midterm elections this year. The Democrats are looking for advantage in Bush’s weak poll numbers and burgeoning scandals in Republican congressional ranks.
“Our economy is the envy of the world,” Bush said. “And yet people are changing jobs a lot and there is competition from India and China, which creates some uncertainty. My worry is that people see that uncertainty and decide to adopt isolated policies, or projectionist policies.”
Bush has been beset by criticism that his optimistic messages of recent years haven’t squared with the worries many Americans feel over high energy and health care costs, the costly and deadly Iraq war and continuing terrorist threats. Democrats said his words could not overcome those problems.
“It just wasn’t credible to hear him talk about making America more secure and honouring our troops or making America energy independent or making health care more affordable without hearing him explain why he’s done just the opposite for the last five years,” said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Bush spoke from the stage of the jam packed Grand Ole Opry House. Country music stars including Barbara Mandrell, Larry Gatlin, Lee Greenwood, Lorrie Morgan and the Oak Ridge Boys warmed up the crowd under a sign that said “Americans Win When America Leads.”
Bush joked to the enthusiastic crowd that he should have given the State of the Union there. “How cool would it have been to give a State of the Union speech in a Porter Wagoner outfit?” he said, referring to the flashy country music star.
Outside, more than 100 protesters held up their own signs that said “No Confidence” and “No warrant, no wiretap, no W.” That was a reference to Bush’s much-debated secret program of eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails in an attempt to sniff out terrorist plots, which he vigorously defended in his State of the Union address.
In yesterday’s speech, Bush declared that America must break its long dependence on Mideast oil and rebuked critics of his stay-the-course strategy for the unpopular war in Iraq.
Rejecting calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he said, “There is no peace in retreat.” He also slapped at those who complain he took the country to war on the erroneous grounds that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“Hindsight alone is not wisdom,” Bush said. “And second-guessing is not a strategy.”
He pledged to maintain “a civil tone” in disputes with those in Congress who oppose his policies, like the nation’s involvement in Iraq. But Democratic Sen. Joe Biden complained today that “he says that all the time, and then his administration, through the vice president and the secretary of defence and others, says that anyone who criticises the war, they imply they’re not patriotic.”
“I hope we’re beyond that,” Biden said on CBS’s The Early Show.
“I think the president is in enough trouble politically and understands that it’s time to really reach out.”
Bush declared “the state of our union is strong and together we will make it stronger.” But Democrats said Bush was living in a fantasyland.
“Our country is ready for change and a new direction,” Democratic Party head Howard Dean said.
Three-fourths of the people who watched the speech said they approve of the proposals made by Bush, according to a CBS News poll last night of 734 viewers.
Those who watched the speech were more likely to be Republican, but only a third who saw the speech thought the president will be able to achieve the goals he mentioned.
The partisan mood in the packed House chamber was evident as Bush turned, over halfway through his remarks, to Social Security, the subject of his signature initiative from last year’s address that was indefinitely cast aside after even Republicans balked.
Bipartisanship erupted briefly as the president went on to make his modest call for the creation of a commission, made up of members from both parties, to examine the impact of the retirement of the baby boomer generation on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.