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Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser
Kaiser discussed Bush's 2002 State of the Union address
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Instant Analysis: State of the Union
With Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003; 10 p.m. ET

President Bush delivers his third State of the Union address on Tuesday, amidst brewing conflict with Iraq, persistent threats from North Korea, a struggling economy and approval ratings that have fallen in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the president continues to push his domestic agenda, from health care to taxes, and Tom Ridge, the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security, was sworn in just days ago.

How did Bush do? Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser will be online for Instant Analysis of Bush's State of the Union address -- the administration plans it outlined, the Democrats' response and how it's likely to play.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good Evening. It's 10 p.m. EST, advertised starting time for an "instant analysis" -- more accurately, instant discussion -- of the State of the Union address. But the president is still talking. We'll come back as soon as he has finished.

Washington, D.C.: Was there anything new in the "evidence" the president presented against Iraq?

Robert G. Kaiser: I didn't see any new evidence if you mean facts. There was an interesting formulation that caught my eye: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody, reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda." I'd certainly like to see more of that, as you would too. Perhaps Powell will tell us more on Feb. 5.

Dallas, Tex.: Why did Bush raise the issue of the aluminium tubes again when the IAEA has stated repeatedly that they're very certain they were meant for artillery rocket production and were ill-suited for uranium enrichment purposes?

Robert G. Kaiser: I can't speak for the president, but there was an excellent story about these tubes in The Post the other day. I hope my editor at WPNI can post a link to it here, or nearby.

washingtonpost.com: Story: U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question (Post, Jan. 24, 2003)

Las Vegas, Nev.: Having listened to the speech, and all of the negative things we must respond to, from the economy to education, to the elderly, to the evils of the world (Iraq, Iran, North Korea), just what is the state of the union? It really didn't seem to be addressed.

Robert G. Kaiser: This is an interesting point. Bush did tell us the "state of our union is strong," but he did not directly address many of the anxieties abroad in the land, did he? I was struck also that he skipped right over the budget deficit, now projected to grow quickly to at least $300 billion, and to stay there for many years. A year ago in the State of the Union he said "our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term..." He did acknowledge that more people were out of work, and that more people are living without health insurance. But, like you, I wonder if there was a disconnect tonight between some substantial concerns in the public mind and the president's speech.

Orlando, la.: Dubya seemed far more accomplished as a speaker on this State of the Union address than in ones past. Has he been spending extra time with a speech coach?

Robert G. Kaiser: I had a similar reaction. I think he is finding a style that suits his own skills as an orator: quiet, firm, confident. Of course, what he actually said doesn't thrill everyone, as you'll see in readers' comments here this evening. But I agree with you that he spoke well.

Interestingly the White House Web site, whitehouse.gov, has a series of photos taken since Jan. 23 showing the President making preparations for tonight's speech. One shows a full-blown rehearsal in the White House family theater that took place on Jan. 24, last Friday. I surmise from this scanty evidence that Bush has been working very hard to polish this speech.

North Hollywood, Calif.: He must have mispronounced "nuclear" at least 10 times. Didn't that drive you nuts?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is one of many comments on the same theme. I have to say there are several distinguished journalists in this newsroom who pronounce the word the way the president does, so I am going to cop out of a direct reply. But I do think it's a common error. Don't you?

Takoma Park, Md.: It is noo-cyoo-lur or noo-clee-ur?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes indeed.

New York, N.Y.: How do you think this speech will be received in Europe, especially in France and Germany?

Robert G. Kaiser: Bush told them what they are not eager to hear: that we will consult others, but act alone if they won't agree with us. However, this is just what the administration was saying before Bush's speech in September began the process of very real international consultations. So I am going to wait to see what actually happens, beginning with Tony Blair's visit to Camp David on Friday.

Alexandria, Va.: I thought the strength of print journalism was it could be reasoned and deliberate compared to television news. Are you comfortable popping off with "instant analysis?" Or is this just for fun?

Robert G. Kaiser: A painfully good question. Watch how I do this to see an essentially uncomfortable instant analyst trying to avoid the pitfalls of the art form. Will he fall off the high wire? Probably. I like the repartee with readers the best.

Folsom, Calif.: What do you think the Russian response will be, given your experience?

Robert G. Kaiser: I know that Vladimir Putin will want to stay on Bush's side in the weeks ahead. I didn't see anything in this speech to aggravate what must be already high anxieties in Moscow over the next phase of this crisis. But I cannot predict what is going to happen now.

Nuculur: Hey Eisenhower said it and so did Carter, and Carter was supposedly a "nucular" engineer. Actually I was listening for this and Bush exceeded my expectation and pronounced it with a Texas twang "nuclear."

Robert G. Kaiser: Another expert heard from...

Athens, Ohio: Do you find President Bush's promise of fuel cell research credible?

Robert G. Kaiser: He can ask Congress for this money for hydrogen fuel cell research; Congress can appropriate the money; it could happen. The temptation here is a solution to global warming at a stroke. Or is it a pipe dream?

New Brunswick, N.J.: In your opinion, did the State of the Union address deserve so many standing ovations?

Robert G. Kaiser: Americans who think of us as simply rational, pragmatic people ought to be required to watch states of the union speeches for a week without a break. I think all those standing O's are part of a very silly ritual that seems only to get sillier as the years pass. The silliest moments are when one party's members leap to their feet with cheers, and the other party's members sit dumb. It's more like high school than High Politics in my opinion.

Olmsted Falls, Ohio: For what reason was Iran mentioned so prominently in the speech? With the world's attention already divided between North Korea and Iraq, why fracture it more?

Robert G. Kaiser: I thought he was reviving the Axis of Evil, without using the term -- reviving it to, this year, draw distinctions he glossed over last year, to justify taking very different approaches to each of the three.

Ft Lauderdale, Fla.: My wife got goosebumps and thought Hussein must be getting worried. Is this a good thing?

Robert G. Kaiser: For your wife? Or Hussein?

No, shouldn't joke about such matters. Hussein has to realize that he has a very big problem. This to me is one of the most intriguing aspects of the situation. What must he be thinking? What are the guys around him -- all of whom know their lives will likely end abruptly if America attacks Iraq -- thinking themselves? Will they DO something?

Montreal, Canada: Hello Robert,

Why is the Bush administration NOW going to present evidence against Iraq (after the State of the Union address), and what possibly is the U.S. going to gain from it?

Robert G. Kaiser: In fact it seems the administration has had this idea in mind for weeks: to let the inspectors start on their own, and come in later to support them with new intelligence if needed. There will be, as Bob Woodward reported in The Post this week, a new batch of intelligence available to all of us soon. WIll it be at all persuasive? I have no idea.

washingtonpost.com: Woodward story: U.S. to Make Iraq Intelligence Public (Post, Jan. 28, 2003)

Delray Beach, Fla.: What do you think of the AIDS package for Africa and the "poor souls" remark?

Robert G. Kaiser: The AIDS proposal seems ambitious and substantial. I note that Jesse Helms took up this cause in the last year of his career; something is going on about AIDS in Africa that I don't fully understand. Poor souls was one of quite a big number of religious allusions in this speech. I've come to realize -- or to think -- that Bush quite often communicates his religious convictions in public, but does so gently to that those attuned to such remarks pick them up, while others who are not so sensitive often don't notice.

La Mirada, Calif.: Does anyone really think President Bush has NOT made up his mind to go to war?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, I'm not 100 percent certain. I think he long ago made up his mind that he had to convince Saddam that he had indeed made up his mind to go to war. He has stuck to that. But I bet he's still hoping he doesn't have to, for reasons he alluded to tonight.

San Carlos, Calif.: Why isn't Bush addressing the national deficit, or is he just hoping tax cuts to the rich will pull us out of this economic mess?

Robert G. Kaiser: I mentioned this earlier. Personally I think the administration's economic policy is in a mess. I don't think administration officials really know how to talk about it very effectively.

Fairfax, Va.: The fuel cell research, to me, appears to be a total red herring and a direct gimme to the auto makers. Fuel cells, and hydrogen powered engines, not unlike electric powered vehicles have a major shortcoming which is not technological, distribution infrastructure. It ain't there, yet. Do you think this will truly spur any technology advances more than capitalism?

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm flattered to think anyone suspects I could answer this question sensibly!

Ferndale, Wash.: I was so impressed with the president tonight. I have only seen like five of these in my life but I think this one was the best. In your lifetime what is your first response to his presentation? Where would you rank it? (Yes, really a 17-year-old reading the Washington Post in Ferndale, Wash., 3,000 miles away!)

Robert G. Kaiser: I think it was a good job, rhetorically. I have seen too many of them to keep an orderly Top Ten in my head. But I have noticed, going back to LBJ, that most presidents thrive in that environment, speak better there than they usually do, and rise to the occasion. Clinton's speeches, though always much too long by my standards, nearly all were big hits with the public. Bush does them well now too.

Delighted we have you as a reader!

Belleville, Ill.: What a great speech by Gov. Locke! Very tough, very well stated. He pointed out the very great problems in Bush's America. What did you think of it?

washingtonpost.com: Story: Democrats Attack Bush on Economic Policy (AP, Jan. 28, 2003)
Full Text: Democratic Response

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. I read the speech hurriedly, but was on here already when he delivered it.

Arlington, Va.: One recurring rhetorical theme the Bushies love to trot out (and Rummy did a variance with his "Old Europe" comment last week) is the "modernity" of their ideas. I find it interesting he seems to be repackaging some old GOP ideas for Medicaid reform along with heaping Texas-sized portion or tort reform under the need for a "modern" health care system. I'm surprised no one has noticed this.

Robert G. Kaiser: Whadya mean, you noticed it. Others might too!

Trenton, N.J.: I found it creepy when Bush described the terrorists as cryptically "taken care of." Is this Bush as Tony Soprano? What's going on?

Robert G. Kaiser: Several comments like this one have come in. This reminded me a little of Wanted, Dead or Alive. I don't think I heard Osama's name tonight, did I?

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Hey my wife got goosebumps --- surely this has to be important. She is quite apolitical. Frankly I got more goosebumps last year.

Robert G. Kaiser: Should we do a goosebump census?

Annandale, Va.: So, what is the tally for the cost of Bush's proposed programs, etc.? I lost track after the first few hundred billion dollars, not counting the tax cuts, of course.

Robert G. Kaiser: Republicans used to refer to "tax and spend" Democrats. Now we have "Cut tax and spend" Republicans. I too lost count, but a lot of billions were tossed around tonight.

Sterling, Va.: I am so disappointed in the Democrats. They clapped at almost everything the boy-king said. What's the use in voting for them if they can't grow a backbone?

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment.

Washington, D.C.: I found it interesting that Bush kept discussing Saddam's "deception," mostly because I had been impressed at how well Bush's speechwriters had created a rather deceptive speech for Bush to read to us. Many of his statements could be interpreted multiple ways; many were pure spin; and a few were outright lies from what I've read. (Hans Blix said Iraq did have a credible excuse for aluminum tubes, for example, where Bush says there is no credible explanation.)

Is this a case of someone criticizing in others what they feel most insecure about themselves, that is, deception?

Robert G. Kaiser: ...And thanks for this one too.

Kensington, Md.: I hear all the oohs and aaahs from commentators of how great W did and that's not what I saw and heard. The pres makes me so embarrassed for America that he is the spokesman. I disagree with almost everything he said. We will be eating blowback for a hundred years.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's one sort of strong reaction to the speech...

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Never liked this guy but recently he impresses me. And surprise you don't see people saying he's stupid anymore. And God bless those goosebumps.

Robert G. Kaiser: And here's another...

San Antonio, Tex.: Did I understand correctly that the president is now going to support an anti-AIDS initiative in Africa that will "prevent" the disease? How will this work when we refuse to give any money for condoms and family planning?

Robert G. Kaiser: I caught that one too. Don't know what he has in mind.

Los Angeles, Calif.: The president said that he would propose $600 million for substance use. Any more information?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a very interesting proposal that will set off a storm of controversy. Bush is proposing vouchers for drug treatment which addicts could use at a medical clinic, or at a faith-based treatment center which has no doctors, just prayers. He referred to one such program in the speech. You can read about this in a story coming in tomorrow's Post.

Albuquerque, N.M. -- From the right side: President Kennedy initiated tax cuts in 1962 and started a terrific economic boom through the 1960s. If the principle worked in the 1960s, and it worked in the 1980s with President Reagan, why not now? If you stop taking the money people earn to spend for them, and give it to them, and exercise fiscal restraint in Congress, the economy should grow. It's a proven fact.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for your comment. Many economists, and much economic history, dispute your analysis, but we are not going to get into that debate tonight.

White Bear Lake, Minn.: I was surprised that President Bush didn't offer any thoughts on how his compassionate conservatism could improve opportunities for African Americans, given the embarrassment the Republicans suffered because of Trent Lott. Were there any indications that he considered doing so prior to tonight?

Robert G. Kaiser: No indications I'm aware of, but I think your point is a good one. Did he miss a chance? Perhaps.

Chicago, Ill.: Did Bush really mean Iran? I thought I even heard someone shout out "IRAQ" after his first mention. Seems to me the context of his comments suggest he intended to say IRAQ!

Robert G. Kaiser: He meant Iran. It was in the prepared text, and the description obviously applied to Iran.

Nairobi, Kenya: Actually Bush spoke clearly on the subject on AIDS, including prevention. Were you so surprised you did not comprehend? Why do you react this way, so negatively?

Robert G. Kaiser: The questioner and I both wondered what Bush as in mind to prevent AIDs. I didn't think the reaction was negative, just curious. Do you understand what he has in mind?

Seal Beach, Calif.: People love to imply that President Bush has sinister motives for going to war with Iraq. According to the media, the American public doesn't support going to war and his approval ratings are dropping. What a transparent political gesture.

Do you think it's possible that he might be acting out of conviction?

-- A Marine wife

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes I do.

Washington, D.C.: Speaking of deception, dear Lord, the man is a liar.

He makes a point to insult HMOs, then follows up by "forgetting" to mention that his Medicare drugs require changing over to an HMO.

He "pretends" that the average person will get over $1k back from his tax cuts. In fact, that's just the median average (total taxes divided by people). In reality, the average person barely gets $200.

He "pretends" that some family of four gets big savings. In reality, this is only true for a specially chosen family -- most don't get a fourth of that.

He pulls the "double taxation" canard, when in fact most corporate profits these days are never taxed, due to tricky maneuvering.

I could go on for about 20 examples.

What a liar. And people wonder why we don't trust his nebulous assertions of evidence on Iraq? I'll wait for Feb. 5, to see the actual data.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment.

Eugene, Ore.: How is Bush planning on getting the money for his social programs while cutting taxes? Is he planning on running up the deficits more or what?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes he is planning on much bigger deficits.

Newton, Mass.: The president described his vision of Social Security, saying "we must offer younger workers a chance to invest in retirement accounts that they will control and they will own."

Isn't individual ownership essentially a dismantling of Social Security?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not sure dismantling is the right word. If a scheme like the one Bush favors came into law, then yes, younger workers would be outside traditional Social Security, while their elders stayed in the old system. Some economists argue that there isn't enough money for both; I think they may be right. But I bet a nickel this idea goes nowhere in Congress.

Chicago, Ill.: With 280 million citizens why do we try and fit everybody into only two parties? I am a Republican, but I know that Democrats have good ideas too and which ever one is better for America should be used. In the past elections I voted for who I thought would serve my community better. In the Democrats rebuttal, all I heard was "we as Democrats have the only answer." Of course Republicans will say the same thing and I think that kind of party politics is hurting our government. I never heard the president saying only Republicans are going to get us through this, but maybe I missed it. Will we ever have a Capitol Hill that will truly work together or are we too far along the road of division?

Robert G. Kaiser: This question is worth pondering. Are two parties inevitable? I don't think so, but I don't know either. The partisanship in Washington is really powerful now; I don't see how it can be ended.

Santa Barbara, Calif.: Do you think there was anything he said in the speech tonight that reflected the recent upheaval in the Senate with Sen. Lott?

Robert G. Kaiser: If so I missed it.

Newtown, Conn.: Do you know who the Cabinet member was that did not attend the speech tonight due to security reasons?

washingtonpost.com: Attorney General John Ashcroft and Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta drew doomsday duty.

Robert G. Kaiser: My editors answer this below...

Robert G. Kaiser: It's bedtime here in the East. Thanks to all for a lively session. Tomorrow's paper will be full of good stuff for those interested in going into the speech in more depth. Good night.

Springfield, Va.: My eighth-grade son's homework for civics includes counting the number of times the speech was interrupted by applause -- he, unfortunately, fell asleep during the speech. got a count, by any chance? Thanks.

Robert G. Kaiser: According to our transcript, about 73 times.

washingtonpost.com: Correction: According to the Associated Press, Secretary Mineta was out because of back surgery, not doomsday duty.


That wraps up tonight's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

We'll be talking about the State of the Union address more tomorrow:
Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, 11 a.m. ET
Washington Post columnist and reporter David S. Broder, Noon ET
The Nation Washington Editor David Corn, 1:30 p.m. ET

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