PowerBlogging the State of the Union
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PowerBlogging the State of the Union

I’ll be watching President Bush’s final State of the Union speech tonight and PowerBlog readers are invited to react and respond in the comments section below.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the night (below the break) for those of you interested in the (running) commentary. For now, let me just add this spoiler: the State of our Union is strong!

And for those of you who subscribe to SIRIUS Satellite Radio, I’m scheduled to discuss the speech at 10:40 PM Eastern on The Catholic Channel, channel 159. The conversation will focus especially on the proposed tax rebates, the federal budget, and tax cuts. Update: The audio of the interview is streaming here (download MP3 here).

Here’s a brief primer on what to expect tonight.

I think I’ll be watching NBC’s coverage, off the strength of their American Gladiators prelude.

NBC’s presidential historian reminds us that the President’s approval ratings are historically low. A bit later, Tim Russert notes that the President’s are at 31%, while Congress’ are at 18%.

Prediction: The perception of George W. Bush’s legacy will improve with age. People on both sides of the aisle will point to his leadership in a time of national trial.

9:12 PM: The President says we must “trust people with their own money.” That sounds about right. This is clearly a reference to the importance of passing the stimulus package quickly. Only in Washington does “immediate” action mean something finally happens four or five months later.

9:14 PM: The President starts strong on taxes, following up on his stress on the economic stimulus package. He says he will veto any bill that crosses his desk that raises taxes.

9:15 PM: The President promises a balanced budget by 2012, just about the time the next President’s first term will be ending. He’s right that the government needs to be accountable for how it spends the citizens’ money. Tax cuts without a balanced budget seem prima facie irresponsible.

9:17 PM: He will veto any bill that doesn’t cut earmarks in half. How about just eliminating them? Check out Citizens Against Government Waste.

9:21 PM: On education, Bush reiterates the legacy of No Child Left Behind, calling it a “bipartisan” achievement that needs to be strengthened. Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy are sitting next to each other.

9:22 PM: “Pell Grants for Kids” sounds like a public school voucher system.

9:26 PM: On energy, the President wants to fund carbon-capturing technologies for coal plants. It’s simply a fact that attempts to make the US energy independent will have to take advantage of coal, at least in the short- to mid-term, since it is so readily available domestically.

9:28 PM: Time and again the President is equating increased government funding with “dynamic” innovation in technology and science. I’m with Arnold Kling on this question, preferring privately funded innovation prizes over “trying to work the political system.”

9:32 PM: Speaking of the President’s legacy, one of the things he has done that will have lasting effects is bring entitlement reform onto the table. He never got anything passed, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting necessary for true reform by bringing these “pressing” issues into the public consciousness.

9:34 PM: He’s also taken a lot of heat over his attempts to find a moderating position on immigration. He’s right that we need a “humane” solution.

9:35 PM: “People when given the chance will choose a future of freedom and peace.”

9:50 PM: The last fifteen minutes or so have focused on the war on terror, particularly on Iraq: “We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated.”

9:54 PM: Transitioning from a discussion of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine (two “democratic” states) and the threat of Iran, the President starts to discuss domestic security. I am thankful and frankly amazed that we have not suffered another terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

9:57 PM: The President is outlining a comprehensive plan to advance both American foreign interests and meet the demands of our conscience by creating a more “compassionate” foreign policy focused on increased foreign development aid.

10:01 PM: The President concludes with a bit of history, noting the change in language from the Articles of Confederation, “We the undersigned delegates…”, to the Constitution, “We the people…”, which was ratified on September 17, 1787.

10:04 PM: Tim Russert called the speech the “minimalist agenda of a lame duck President.”

As appropriate in a time of war, the bulk of the speech focused on the war on terror in its various fronts. Given the “lame duck” status of a relatively unpopular President, it is an open question how much influence, beyond the “veto” threat that was raised more than once in this speech, President Bush will have over the next year on domestic policy.

10:06 PM: David Gregory points to the President’s “bitterness” over his inability to pass either entitlement or immigration reform. Again, these two issues, especially the former, is likely to be one of the important legacies of his domestic work. History will vindicate his argument that Social Security needs radical reform.

I think it’s an interesting question as to what sort of tone this speech has set for any potential Presidential successor of either party. Was this used at all as an opportunity to try and set up the agenda of the next President?

10:16 PM: Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius delivers the Democratic response.

10:18 PM: Sorry, that’s the “American” response, focusing on the economy. “A temporary fix is only the first step,” referring to the stimulus package.

10:21 PM: On a number of domestic issues, from raising the minimum wage to “going green,” the governor asks the President, “Will you join us?”

Here’s a link to the full text of the 2008 State of the Union address.

It looks like action on the economic stimulus package might not be so immediate. The WaPo is reporting that the Senate version to be taken up tomorrow has some rather significant divergences from the plan agreed to by the President and the House leadership.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.