State of Union address: A realistic agenda?

State of Union address:A realistic agenda?
President Bush's State of the Union address not only set the stage for policymaking between executive and legislative branches of the federal government in 2004, it also set the tone and content of this year's presidential race.
"President Bush's speech was not so much a State of the Union as a state of his re-election campaign," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
In fairness, the agenda-setting function of the annual address to Congress is constitutionally mandated. Its timing at the gateway to presidential caucuses and primaries is not political opportunism. It is traditionally delivered in the last 10 days of January. In election years, however, the speech automatically becomes intensely more politically charged.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, count on Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates to chip away at the major pillars of Bush's platform for 2004 and beyond.
Few, however, can take issue with the importance of the broad-based goals Bush enunciated: protecting our homeland, fighting terrorist threats, strengthening the U.S. economy and improving health-care services to all Americans. Many, however, can and should challenge the president on some of the specifics and on the ability to realistically achieve all of his lofty goals.
Goals or grandstanding?
In some respects, the speech moved beyond politicking and crept close to grandstanding.
Bush wowed us with the progress in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein: "For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place." The president, however, neglected to spend much time on the mounting casualties in the Iraq war, its skyrocketing costs and the increasing violence that threatens plans for a presidential election there this spring.
Bush also proudly proclaimed, "The American economy is growing stronger." While some segments of the economy have shown strong revival, this upturn remains a jobless recovery. Businesses added only 1,000 new jobs last month and the drop in unemployment to 5.7 percent was attributed to frustrated workers leaving the work force.
Bush also sang the praises of his $1.7 trillion tax cut and called on Congress to renew it. At the same time, he advocated cutting the national deficit in half over the next five years.
Unfortunately, some view those as mutually exclusive goals. Indeed the overall tenor of the president's address carried on one of his long-standing weaknesses: The ability to profess to Americans that they can have it all -- a robust economy, generous tax cuts, a strong health-care system and a successful war on terrorism - at little or no cost. Clearly, with limited resources, America cannot have it all. Priorities must be made. Issues must be clarified. Proposals must be debated.
Let that debate continue openly, fairly and intensely throughout the campaign season.