State of the Union: Zzzzzz

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006; 11:21 AM

No one liked the speech.

Well, that's not fair. I'm sure there are millions of Americans who liked President Bush's address just fine.

The punditocracy didn't like the speech.

Well, plenty of commentators said it was perfectly adequate and well delivered. But nobody was terribly excited about it.

Most conservatives, who might be expected to provide a cheering section, say it didn't provide much meat, red or otherwise. The most frequent description may have been Clintonian, and that's not meant as a compliment.

I happen to think we in the media hype these annual events out of all proportion. If Bush was struggling politically before the SOTU, one speech wasn't going to turn that around.

Much of this, you will not be shocked to learn, is poll-driven. A president comes into the House chamber with a 39 percent approval rating, all the reporters say he's in deep trouble, and after the speech, they say he's still in trouble. Had Bush given his speech with a 59 percent approval rating, I guarantee you the coverage would have been more positive.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that Bush gave a bold speech last year, while this time he was reduced to proposing a bipartisan commission on Social Security and making a bunch of other small-scale proposals. So in that sense, the 2005 Bush was a bigger speech. But then, almost everything the president proposed went nowhere. So maybe a smaller speech is the more realistic one.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes , who just wrote a book praising the president, prefers the private Bush:

"When he met with TV anchors over lunch at the White House yesterday, President Bush was feisty, blunt, salty, assertive, and brimming with self-confidence. He was passionate on the topic of national security, saying the first thought on his mind when he wakes up every morning is how to protect America from attack. And he was adamant about aggressively pursuing an agenda in his final three years in office. He said he wouldn't just mark time or 'play for a tie.'

"But when he delivered his State of the Union address last night, a slightly different Bush showed up. His assertion that 'we are winning' in Iraq was strong, but the remainder of the speech was mild and more moderate. And after winning serious tax cuts, a Medicare drug benefit, education reform, and a more conservative Supreme Court, his new agenda loomed small in comparison."

Something's up when the Weekly Standard agrees with the New Republic, in the person of Ryan Lizza :


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