Bush Echoes Presidents Past in Empty Talk of Economics

By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

In his State of the Union speech last night, President Bush single-handedly revived the spirit of bipartisanship that has been so sorely lacking in Washington for the past decade, at least in terms of economic policy.

We've known for the past several years that the Democrats have nothing original, credible or even mildly intellectually intriguing to say about trade and immigration, the health care crisis, the energy crisis, the income inequality crisis, the education crisis, the global warming crisis, the looming entitlement crisis and the ballooning federal budget deficit.

But now it's official: the Republicans have nothing original, credible or even mildly intellectually intriguing to say about them, either.

It's unanimous.

Listening to the president's speech, in fact, was a bit like stepping into a time machine.

The we-can-meet-this-challenge rhetoric about energy independence, cars running on alternative energy and ending our addiction to Mideast Oil -- that could have come straight from the mouth of Jimmy Carter. The only thing missing was the sweater.

The bit about cutting the deficit in half while renewing individual tax cuts and the research-and-development tax credit -- that was pure Ronald Reagan. Ditto blaming malpractice suits for rising health care costs.

You have to go back only as far as Bill Clinton to find the last blue ribbon commission on entitlement reform.

And you know you're getting old when you can't even count the number of presidents and would-be presidents who have used that tired old line about how, "with open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker." Wasn't that a Hubert Humphrey line?

We saw final confirmation of just how devoid the president was of fresh material when he trotted out the ol' line-item veto. Maybe now that he's packed the Supreme Court with a couple of government men, he thinks he can breathe constitutional life back into that dead policy horse.

But here's what I don't understand:

The American people are hungry -- desperately so -- for some straight talk from a political leader of either party about the economic challenges before them.

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