Out of Gas

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 29, 2008; 12:32 PM

There it was last night, for all the world to see: A presidency running on empty.

In his final State of the Union address, President Bush had almost nothing to say. Certainly nothing new and significant. Nothing remotely memorable.

It's a safe bet that nothing he said last night will amount to much. Nothing he said will help bring the country together, or undo the damage he has done to American interests abroad. Nothing he said will help him win back the trust or support of the American people, both which he lost a long time ago.

On the traditional State of the Union litany of subjects, his repetition of familiar and sometimes delusional talking points conveyed a clear, though unintended message: That those looking for meaningful progress on the key issues facing our nation and our world today will have to wait for the next president.

In a live chat right after the speech, Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser wrote: "We have a president who is out of public support (32 percent approval), out of ideas and out of gas. It is fascinating to me how difficult it is for politicians (and journalists too, to be fair) to say publicly what so many of them readily say among themselves now: this is a failed presidency, one of the most unsuccessful in American history probably. Republicans in Congress say this to each other, but tonight they jump up an applaud like cheerleaders for their team.

"Several who have posted questions noted, as I did, the large number of verbal gaffes Bush made tonight -- little things, missed words, mispronunciations and such. It made you wonder about his own level of interest in the speech, somehow."

William Neikirk writes in the Chicago Tribune: "The speech was a notable departure in how little he proposed -- no new programs like space travel to Mars or calls for great sacrifice -- as though he was tacitly conceding that the hourglass of his presidency was emptying rapidly.

"He appeared to relish the role of national cheerleader, saying that while the economy is slowing, 'in the long run, Americans can be confident about their economic growth.'

"Yet those words might fall short in restoring even a semblance of the political power he once held. A president's voice is his most powerful tool, but the power is lost if people are no longer listening. 'The country wants to get past this administration,' said presidential scholar Robert Dallek."

Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "Making his seventh and final State of the Union address, President Bush proposed a short list of initiatives Monday that more than anything else underscored the White House's growing realization that his biggest political opponents now are time and an electorate already looking beyond him.

"This address lacked the soaring ambitions of Mr. Bush's previous speeches, though it had its rhetorical flourishes. He invoked the 'miracle of America' but for the most part flatly recited familiar ideas -- cutting taxes, fighting terrorists, the war in Iraq -- rather than bold new ones. Nothing he proposed Monday is likely to redefine how history judges his presidency."

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush had a simple underlying message in his final State of the Union speech Monday night. I'm still here.


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