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In final State of the Union, president threatens to use veto power

Economic remarks get high praise, but Democrat happy it's Bush's last

POSTED: February 9, 2008 5:03 a.m.

With the public’s attention already diverted toward the upcoming presidential election, President George W. Bush stood up Monday night and reminded the nation that he is still the person in charge.

Bush’s final State of the Union speech, delivered just one week before the Super Tuesday primaries, offered the president a last chance to shrug off historically low approval ratings and reassert his leadership.

"I think the State of the Union is an important address because it forces the president to make the equivalent of a corporate annual report," said Dan Franklin, a professor of political science at Georgia State University. "(Bush) is still relevant because he has the power of veto; he is still the commander-in-chief and the chief executive. And though his (approval) numbers are low, he believes history will be kinder to him."

Franklin watched Monday’s speech with particular interest because he’s working on a book about how presidents act during the "lame duck" final year of their terms.

"There is a kind of poignancy about it," Franklin said. "This presidency, for better or worse, is going to leave us a real legacy. He can point to changes that he has made, including the tax cuts, No Child Left Behind and getting rid of Saddam Hussein."

In his address Monday, Bush gave equal time to foreign and domestic issues, but he began the speech with the economy, clearly aware that Americans are worried about their finances.

"The economy is my major concern. I’m on a fixed income," said Jim Pilgrim, a member of the Hall County Republican party. "I liked that (Bush) really pushed the economic issue and that he said he would veto a bill that had a lot of ‘pork’ attached to it."

Douglas Young, professor of political science at Gainesville State College, said Bush showed a surprising willingness to wield his veto pen.

"I think he was far more assertive with his veto threats, which made me wonder, why didn’t he do it in the first six years?" Young said. "There was plenty of wasteful spending before the Democrats took control of Congress, but he never seemed to be seriously interested in balancing the budget."

Young called Bush’s current attempt to trim spending "too little, too late."

"And the same with immigration. I don’t think he has much credibility," Young said. "He’s had seven years to go after the corrupt businesses that employ these criminals, and he hasn’t done it."

By contrast, Joe Diaz, a Gainesville Democrat, said Bush’s remarks on immigration were the only part of the speech he did agree with.

The president asked Congress to "create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy," and to "find a sensible and humane way to deal with those who are here illegally."

Diaz said he fully supports those concepts, even though most conservatives would define such measures as "amnesty."

Young said the first half of the speech, which covered domestic issues, "sounded like a laundry list." Often Bush devoted only a sentence or two to a topic before moving on to the next item.

"I do think he offered constructive ideas on entrusting the private sector (to take control of their own lives), but realistically he’s not going to get a lot of his agenda through a Democratic Congress," Young said.

Young noted that Bush seemed to become much more energized when talking about Iraq, terrorism and foreign policy, to which he devoted a considerable amount of time.

"He seems to evince the most passion on Iraq and military issues," Young said. "It must be an enormous relief to him that the situation in Iraq is better."

Pilgrim called Bush’s speech "forward-looking, without any attempt to be nostalgic." But he observed that the Democratic members of Congress rarely applauded any of Bush’s remarks.

"I did notice that the applause was only on one side of the aisle," he said. "We are going to need bipartisan cooperation to get things done."

Diaz said Bush has signaled that he has no intention of cooperating.

"We heard a long list of things he’s going to veto, which indicates he’s not planning to work with Congress," he said.

Yet Diaz, who said he always watches the State of the Union "from start to finish," said he came away from the speech feeling optimistic.

"It’s kind of uplifting to me as a Democrat, based on the fact that it’s (Bush’s) last one," he said.


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