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January 23, 2004

2004 SOTU

Opening his State of the Union address with words of hope and challenge for the war on terror, President George W. Bush quickly charged a strongly divided Congress with a warning: “We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.” The President’s words Tuesday night offered echoes of Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Sweat and Tears” as he called on a nation that has come “through tragedy, and trial, and war” not to “falter and leave our work unfinished.”

As Mr. Bush’s summons applied to the ongoing war on terror, his message was unequivocal: America will not be intimidated by terrorist aggressors or their state sponsors, and we will act militarily, when necessary, to preserve the security of the world.

He reminded the American people that the ubiquity of terrorism is as real as our progress against it. “Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 – over two years without an attack on American soil,” Mr. Bush said, “and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting – and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombasa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world, and by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.” Though two-thirds of al-Qa'ida’s top leadership and 45 of the top 55 Ba'athist criminals have been captured or killed, the terrorist threat endures. Essential to our national security in the war against terrorism, the President said, is the renewal of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, important parts of which will expire next year.

President Bush took the opportunity once again to press the heart of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism – the threat of WMD proliferation among those committed to the destruction of the West. But the disease has a cure, the President argued, and that cure is the democratization of countries where rogue regimes support terrorism. “As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists and could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons,” said Mr. Bush. “The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.” Bush called on the opposition to “be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power,” directly citing the reality of WMD proliferation into the hands of terrorist aggressors. Libya’s acquiescence to U.S.-British demands for international weapons inspections and the dismantling of its WMD programs, Bush argued, points to the success of the policy carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Democratization abroad equates to security at home, the President concluded, vowing that the United States will work for free markets, free elections, free press and free labor unions across the Middle East, and that “we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others and help transform a troubled part of the world.” Accordingly, Afghanistan has a new constitution, Iraq is drafting one, and an interim government will assume full sovereignty by the end of June, followed by free elections. The current President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, sat beside First Lady Laura Bush for the SOTU address and received the thanks of the President and an ovation from Congress.

“I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments,” Bush continued, in a stinging reference not only to war critics, but to his feckless predecessor. “After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, tried, convicted, and sent to prison, but the matter was not settled. … After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States – and war is what they got.” Indeed.

In conducting this war, the President called for U.S.-led multilateralism, as demonstrated in the ouster of Saddam. As a warning, however, Mr. Bush concluded that while international support for security will be sought, international permission will not. Hence the key line of his speech: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.” Bravo, we say.

In his domestic comments, President Bush capitalized on the current economic recovery to call for making his administration’s tax cuts permanent, “For the sake of job growth….” In conjunction with his call for a pro-growth economic agenda, the President identified two hindrances: the state of American education and frivolous lawsuits. His No Child Left Behind Act is the cure to the former, he said, and action by Congress the answer for the latter. Other domestic priorities on the President’s SOTU list were energy modernization and independence, Social Security (semi-privatization), new limits upon growth in discretionary spending, immigration reform, and health-care reform. He also issued implicit support for a constitutional marriage amendment if activist judges don’t cease “redefining marriage by court orders.” Faith-based charities likewise merited comment, as the President announced his new executive order opening billions of dollars in federal grant money to these groups. Regrettably, the SOTU did not include mention of the President’s battle over judicial confirmations in the Demo-obstructionist Senate, even as he ordered the recess appointment of Charles Pickering at the end of last week.

Regarding all of the above initiatives, where security concerns apply, or deregulation and privatization is involved, we applaud. As for the rest, we ask that the administration consult the Constitution and, indeed, the words of its esteemed author: “I cannot undertake to lay my finger,” said James Madison, “on that article in the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the object of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

Last week, we noted in The Federalist Digest that President Bush was vulnerable on the government-growth/budget-deficit issues, both from Democrats claiming he has squandered the “surplus,” to complaints from his own conservative base that he has allowed unmitigated government growth. To be sure, the era of “big government” has been revisited under this administration, with almost a 25% surge in spending in the last three years alone, pushing this year’s projected budget deficit to almost $500 billion. Of course, the 9/11 attack, its subsequent effect on our economy (tax revenues), and our efforts to liberate Iraq and engage Jihadis worldwide have created much of that deficit.

Recall that The Federalist concluded back in 2001 that President Bush would use his first term to combine major sectors of government (for example, the Department of Homeland Security), and use his second term to downsize the duplication in those sectors. We still believe – indeed, we ardently hope – that this is the administration’s strategy.

In his SOTU, the President told Congress, “I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4%. This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending, and be wise with the people’s money. By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.”

Many of the program expansions he mentioned in the SOTU do not involve new spending but rather, budget realignment, and our White House sources now confirm that the President will propose what, in effect, will constitute a freeze on all non-defense or homeland security spending – and not a minute too soon. The President’s fiscal 2005 budget, which he sends to Congress in early February, will hold non-national-security discretionary spending at less than 1% (with inflation averaging 2%). Only about 18% of central government spending is discretionary – the behemoth Social Security and Medicare program payments, and interest on the federal debt, are not discretionary – but that’s a start! In our sneak preview of the FY2005, the Department of Homeland Security budget is increased by 9.5% while military spending remains relatively flat at about $415 billion.

This is the first sign of restraint in government growth since Mr. Bush took office. “It is an improvement over past budgets as long as it is enforced,” says Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Riedl. “The key question is whether the president will enforce this budget proposal with a veto threat.” We believe he will.

(The complete 2004 SOTU can be read at – https://patriotpost.us/reference/state-of-the-union-2004/)

Quote of the week…

“America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace – a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.” –President George W. Bush, 2004 SOTU Address

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