Analysts React to President’s State of the Union Address
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JIM LEHRER: OK. This is it. All right, and there we go. We do have to repeat, as you all know, Mark Shields and David Brooks are here. Overview first, David, the speech.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I thought it was a good speech. I think the main thing I took away — and this isn’t going to sound very cynical at all — is that there is a momentum…
JIM LEHRER: It’s OK. It’s all right. It’s OK.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s all right? I won’t lose the pundit license?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: There is a momentum to American customs and institutions. And you see that in the speech and the reaction to the speech. There are certain formula which president after president does.
And the reason that gives me hope is, as you mentioned, there is this incredible tension over Iraq. And the question, one of the questions going in for me was, will this tension poison everything?
And yet here tonight, I think you saw people can have their really serious disagreements about Iraq, but put that to one side and at least applaud, at least have the spirit of good atmosphere in the room, despite all that. And that leaves the opening, at least, for the possibility that on some of these issues, where there is some bipartisan agreement, especially like immigration reform, increasing the size of the military, earmark reform, that you could actually begin to see some action. And you could actually see legislation come out of this speech.
JIM LEHRER: You see the same thing?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I thought it was — as I said, I thought it was civil. I thought it was polite. I thought there was a polite feeling in the room, that the — the fellow’s down. I disagree with him, but there’s no point in kicking him.
JIM LEHRER: And the reality here — I mean, we’ve got to remember the editorial reality is that all of the votes are there for some kind of resolution on the war that will say something to the effect — a lot of Republicans included — will say something to the effect that increasing the troop strength in Iraq is not in the national interest. And everybody who went in that hall today knows that. And yet…
MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly — and yet there was a civility. And I think that the chances for bipartisan action are there on immigration, are there on, perhaps, energy.
JIM LEHRER: That was one of the big ones, when Nancy Pelosi rose, gave a standing ovation…
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: … it was Immigration reform, sign it, I mean, pass it, and let’s sign it, and let’s get it done.
MARK SHIELDS: And the person sitting on his hands at that point was Congressman Tom Tancredo, the Republican of Colorado, who’s been the president’s most persistent critic and archrival and declared candidate for president in 2008 on the immigration alone. So he has more problems probably within his own party on immigration.
JIM LEHRER: But that has, of course, been the case from the beginning.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: I mean, it’s the Democrats who’ve been supporting because…
MARK SHIELDS: And John McCain.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, and John McCain, but because of the guest-worker program and what to do with the illegals who are already there.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. But I guess what most surprised me about the evening was that there was less intensity. I think it was a fine speech, but I recall — and I was trying to jog my memory on this — when Bill Clinton came in, in 1998, it was within 72 hours of the Monica Lewinsky story breaking.
JIM LEHRER: I remember that.
MARK SHIELDS: And people just couldn’t believe he showed up, let alone, and he really did hit a rhetorical home run. And I don’t know tomorrow what the lead is. Almost half the speech was on Iraq and the Middle East, five-and-a-half pages out of the 12-page speech.
JIM LEHRER: Was there anything new in that speech, David — by the way, we’re about to get the Democratic response from Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. And he’ll be speaking from the Capitol in about another minute. He’ll start in about another minute or so.
But, David, to finish my question, did you hear anything new on Iraq, other than the idea of an advisory council from members of the Congress?
DAVID BROOKS: No, nothing on Iraq. I think the president restated what he’d said — he didn’t really address the question of the resolution, except for he stressed the need for victory. And I think that was pretty much restating what he’d done.
The domestic policy was where the innovation was, CAFE standards, these fuel efficiency standards. That was a little step forward for the president. The health care plan, which would tax people with better plans and would subsidize people without, that’s a step forward for the president. So the innovation here, to the extent there was some, was on the domestic policy.
JIM LEHRER: The applause from Democrats about global climate change…
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: … there were no specifics, but he hadn’t talked about it much.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s the first time he’s ever said that, the serious challenge of global climate change.
JIM LEHRER: We’re going to go now to Senator Webb.