Reaction to Bush's State of the Union
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
The media's reception of President George W. Bush's third, and possibly last, State of the Union address was overwhelmingly negative. Particularly scathing were reactions to Bush's remarks regarding the economy. In San Francisco, home to a largely progressive electorate, Mr. Bush's resolute stance against a court ruling sanctioning same-sex marriages was also a matter of criticism. Overall, it was well recognized that this latest speech from the pulpit was one of Bush's worst when it came to addressing serious problems that face the nation. Nevertheless, the focus of the President's message was recognizably aimed at an altogether different objective: securing reelection.
Analysts writing for Japanese newspapers such as the Yomiuri and the Mainichi were of the same mind as those working for the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor in that they interpreted Bush's speech as the opening pitch of his reelection campaign. Statements on same-sex marriages, tax reductions and social security were an appeal to his conservative constituent base. Through this venue, Mr. Bush was taking advantage of what is commonly referred to in the U.S. as the "Bully Pulpit", in other words, the most effective and influential platform to assert authority, vision and control.
While most agreed that Bush demonstrated authority, major media outlets in the U.S. rated the President's vision poorly and control absent, particularly when it came to fiscal management. The San Francisco Chronicle attacked Bush on the economic front stating that the "State of the Union's finances is enough to make an Enron accountant gag". The New York Times editorial slammed Bush's ideas on the economy after ruling out evenhandedness as "impossible". It insisted that, "the President's domestic policy comes down to one disastrous fact: his insistence on huge tax cuts for the wealthy has robbed the country of the money it needs to address its problems and has threatened its longer term economic security". The severe criticism comes from Americans having witnessed a $5.6 trillion federal surplus be replaced over four years by a $1.4 trillion deficit, a national deficit drop from $5.7 trillion to $7 trillion and 2.5 million jobs disappear. The January 21 editorial in Ohio's Columbus Dispatch reiterated this point of view by claiming that, "last nights speech touched on every kind of security except the kind that makes all others possible: fiscal security".
In America today, there is no doubt that Bush has severely mismanaged the economy. Although his approval ratings remain somewhat strong, there is a developing consensus that Bush Jr. will follow in his father's footsteps by losing reelection on account of the state of the economy. Despite the obvious, this President continues to support his disastrous tax policy that has enriched the 'haves' and stolen from the 'have nots'.
Knowing the fate that met his father, one wonders why George W. would fall into the same trap. According to the New York Times, Bush is determined to do the "wrong thing". The primary reasons put forward by the Times being, his congressional majority and his need to secure wealthy donors who can underwrite his campaign. While the outcome of the election is anybody's guess, it is hoped that policy making and leadership skills will persuade voters. After all, this election is too important to be determined by money.