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The Long Goodbye

"What we are witnessing is the downside of the stability built into the American political system -- the inability of a four-year presidential administration to fall of its own weight. If this were a parliamentary system, all it would take would be a no-confidence vote in Congress to bring on a new presidential election. And probably even a significant minority of Republicans would support such a heave-ho motion. But instead -- keeping in mind that incompetence is not an impeachable offense -- we are saddled with Bush and Dick Cheney for another two years. Which raises the grave issue of whether a president -- armed with his formidable constitutional powers -- can function without the support of Congress, two-thirds of the voters and a growing number of senior members (Virginia Sen. John Warner is a prime example) of his own party.

"Bush gambled the last vestiges of the prestige of his position on his prime-time address on Iraq on Jan. 10 -- and, as a result of that bum bet, the croupier took all the president's chips off the board. Even popular presidents (Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan) risked wearing out their welcome if they preempted evening television time twice in a single month. So it was surprising that Bush returned to the well-trod turf of Iraq and terrorism for almost half the State of the Union address, especially with all the White House pre-speech emphasis on the president's reinvigorated domestic agenda. It was almost as if Bush wanted a do-over on his Iraq speech, somehow believing that if he mouthed the familiar platitudes one more time ('This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle and the security of our nation hangs in the balance'), he could miraculously turn the tide of public opinion."

The hot issue on the right remains immigration, and Power Line's Paul Mirengoff is none too happy:

"The president called on Congress to 'resolve the status of illegal aliens already in the country.' However, their status has already been resolved -- they are illegal aliens. What Bush wants to do is permit them to change that status (and not by leaving the country). But why should we do that? Bush did not say. Those who broke our laws and entered the U.S. illegally had no reasonable expectation that they would ever become citizens -- they decided that it was worth it to come and remain here without that enhanced status. Why then should we improve upon a bargain that was good enough when made and which the illegals could reverse by simply leaving the country?

"Right now, we can't control whether folks come into the country illegally; our only control consists of making sure that those who do so cannot profit to extent of becoming citizens. Until we prove that we can control our borders, it would be foolish to relinquish that control. But that's what Bush and the Dems likely will do."

Virginia's freshman senator, Jim Webb, who beat George Allen by fewer than 9,000 votes, is getting rave reviews.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter:

"For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president's big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism--with personal touches--that left President Bush's ordinary address in the dust . . . It pointed the way to a revival for national Democrats."

Time's Jay Carney calls it "the most compelling response and rebuttal to a State of the Union address I've seen in the past 15 years. He nailed it -- conveyed his personal knowledge about military service, that people serve without regard to political ideology or political identification, and did it without succumbing to partisan one-upmanship."

Andrew Sullivan: "It was, I think, the most effective Democratic response in the Bush years. He managed to bridge economic populism with military service and pride: a very potent combination."

Ladies and gentlemen, a star is born.

Oh, but ex-Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson finds Webb's remarks too cliche-ridden.

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