Bush to Convey Optimism in Speech

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006; 8:06 PM

President Bush, offering the nation stark choices in what he calls a "decisive year," intends to say in tonight's State of the Union address that the United States will continue to advance freedom around the world and lead the global economy, rejecting an isolationist road that leads to "danger and decline."

According to excerpts of the speech released by the White House, Bush will stress the need to maintain America's economic competitiveness, reduce an "addiction" to foreign oil and provide more affordable health care at home.

Looking to invigorate his party and his presidency, Bush prepared a State of the Union address that aides said would convey an optimistic vision for America despite widespread concern over the war in Iraq, high energy prices and the overall direction of the country.

Starting at 9 p.m. EST, Bush will deliver his fifth State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress on the heels of a significant victory -- the Senate's confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. -- but against the backdrop of flagging job approval ratings and simmering scandals as his Republican Party heads toward mid-term elections later this year.

The excerpts released by the White House mentioned no specific new initiatives, but dealt with general themes of U.S. leadership in the world and Bush's stewardship of the nation.

"In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country," Bush will tell Congress, according to the excerpts. "We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom -- or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy -- or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline."

The only way to protect Americans, secure peace and "control our destiny," Bush says, "is by our leadership -- so the United States of America will continue to lead."

Reiterating a long-term goal of ending "tyranny in our world," Bush warns that "we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders." Referring to radical Islamic terrorists, he says, "If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores."

The United States "must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, fighting disease, and spreading hope in hopeless lands," Bush says.

Emphasizing a long-held aim of reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy, Bush says, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. . . . The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

The government is meeting its responsibility to provide health care for the poor and elderly, Bush says in the speech. "For all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care," strengthen doctor-patient relationships and "help people afford the insurance coverage they need," he says.

Democrats, emboldened by Bush's troubles and sharpening their criticism of his leadership, are countering tonight with newly elected Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who has been tapped to deliver the Democratic response to Bush's speech.

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