TOPICS > Politics

Analysts Weigh Bush’s Final State of Union, Democratic Response

January 28, 2008 at 10:10 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, we can now see again David Brooks of The New York Times and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post.

JIM LEHRER: As I say, they have been here.

First, Ruth, an overview here. How did — just your general impression of the speech, on any way, any way you want to approach.

RUTH MARCUS: I was struck by a few things.

First was the essential modesty of the speech. It was a speech by a president who knew the limitations of his time in office and the limitations of the Congress he was dealing with.

So, what he set out were broad ideas, some proposals that were old that he didn’t have very much hope for getting achieved, some proposals that he knew realistically were going to be left to another Congress, and some assertions about the importance of Iraq and staying the course on the foreign policy set.

The other thing I was very much struck by was something that you just mentioned, which is the real change from a year ago, for good and for bad. The good is that the situation in Iraq is so much better than had been anticipated. As the president acknowledged, there are still many hurdles…

JIM LEHRER: Still problems.

RUTH MARCUS: … but it is a different situation on that.

At the same time, the economy is much worse shape. And, last year, at this time, we were all kind of suspending disbelief and thinking very hopefully that, gee, maybe new Congress, we could have some bipartisanship. I think we’re all a little bit sadder and wiser this year. And we know, despite this stimulus package, if it gets passed, that’s probably the last hurrah.

JIM LEHRER: Last hurrah for bipartisanship?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, maybe. They were able to work out some energy and some things.

RUTH MARCUS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DAVID BROOKS: But I was struck by — this sort of goes at what Ruth series, by the series of big challenges he said are still in front of you guys. I’m going to be out of town, but you guys are just going to have to deal with immigration. You guys are going to have to deal with entitlements. You guys are going to have to deal with Iraq, No Child Left Behind.

I actually liked the defense of No Child Left Behind, which is a measured bill, which has mixed….

JIM LEHRER: And he was very straight and strong about it.

DAVID BROOKS: And with some evidence. I mean, it has problems, but we never hear about the good side. And the test scores he reported are actually true. And the gains in African- Americans and Hispanics, those are true.

And, so, I actually was glad to see his side of the argument get a little airing. But, nonetheless, there was the restatement of his general philosophy, which is not new. But there was the laying out of all these problems that are still in front of the country and which he will leave behind, having, in some cases, made a good-faith effort, sometimes unsuccessfully. But, in any case, they were not resolved.

Bush rejects spending 'earmarks'

David Brooks
New York Times
I was struck, just first, tonally. There were no stories. There were no anecdotes. There was a bit of a hectoring tone: You guys are like children. And I'm here to give you your tough medicine.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think, David, about his head-on approach about earmarks? I mean, he sat right there -- he sat right there -- or stood right there while they sat right there and heard him say, here's what I'm -- you cut them by 50 percent, or I'm going to veto this bill.

And I don't think there was some bipartisan applause on that.

DAVID BROOKS: I was struck, just first, tonally. There were no stories. There were no anecdotes. There was a bit of a hectoring tone: You guys are like children. And I'm here to give you your tough medicine.

Now, on the substance -- Ruth and I might differ -- I think the spread of earmarks and the spread of earmarks in the dead of night has been a genuine problem. They have not been the main cause of the budget getting out of whack, but they are a genuine problem. And it's a symptom of a budget control -- a budget process that has gotten surreptitious. It's gone middle-of-the-night sort of stuff. And it is a bit out of control.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Did you think -- what did you think about that, Ruth, that he brought on trouble that he didn't need by being so rough about it? Or did it matter?

RUTH MARCUS: I don't think it was that.

And David and I don't disagree about the problem of earmarks and the abuses of earmarks. What I found a little bit hard to swallow was, this president signed spending bill after spending bill just loaded with earmarks when Republicans were in charge.

And, all of a sudden, last year, when the Democrats took over, and, actually, did not resolve the problem of earmarks, but made a serious effort to cut them, and did cut them by a significant amount, all of a sudden...

JIM LEHRER: It's a bad thing.

RUTH MARCUS: ... he's waving that veto pen that he had in his pocket all that time.

JIM LEHRER: Did you note the same thing?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I did. I guess I did.

But there are still -- there is sense -- and this is reflected in both campaigns that we see -- that Washington is broken. And it was funny how he didn't really address that. He can't very well, having been there for seven years. But there were hints of it that came through. And I think that was one of the issues.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think about his general tone, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, as I said, you know, coming from covering all the campaign speeches, there are some issues -- there are some stories that are just not told. Nothing is personalized in this speech. And then the general unhappiness with Washington was not reflected.

Democratic response

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
If Washington can work quickly together on a short-term fix for families caught in the financial squeeze, then we can work together to transform America.

JIM LEHRER: All right, now we're going to the Democratic response. It does come from the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius. She's speaking from Cedar Crest, which is the name of the governor's mansion in Topeka, Kansas.

And she will be there in -- here she is.


Good evening. I'm Kathleen Sebelius, governor of the state of Kansas. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

I'm a Democrat, but tonight it really doesn't matter whether you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or none of the above.

Instead, the fact you're tuning in this evening tells me that each of you is, above all, an American, first.

You're mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren, working people and business owners -- Americans, all.

And the American people -- folks like you and me -- are not nearly as divided as our rancorous politics might suggest.

In fact, right now, tonight, as the political pundits discuss the president's speech, chances are they will obsess over reactions of members of Congress.

"How many times was the president interrupted by applause? Did Republicans stand? Did the Democrats sit?"

And the rest of us will roll our eyes and think, "What in the world does any of that have to do with me?"

And so I want to take a slight detour from tradition on this State of the Union night.

In this time, normally reserved for a partisan response, I hope to offer something more: an American response, a national call to action on behalf of the struggling families in the heartland, and across this great country; a wakeup call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, that time is running out on our opportunities to meet our challenges and solve our problems.

Our struggling economy requires urgent and immediate action, and then sustained attention. Families can't pay their bills. They're losing their jobs, and now are threatened with losing their homes.

We heard last week and again tonight that Congress and the president are acting quickly, on a temporary, targeted stimulus package. That's encouraging. But you and I know that a temporary fix is only the first step toward meeting our challenges and solving our problems.

There's a chance Mr. President, in the next 357 days, to get real results, and give the American people renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority.

Working together, working hard, committing to results, we can get the job done.

In fact, over the last year, the Democratic majority in Congress has begun to move us in the right direction -- with bipartisan action to strengthen our national security, raise the minimum wage, and reduce the costs of college loans.

These are encouraging first steps. But there's still more to be done.

So we ask you, Mr. President: Will you join us? Let's get to work.

We know that we're stronger as a nation when our people have access to the highest-quality, most-affordable health care. When our businesses can compete in the global marketplace without the burden of rising health care costs here at home.

We know that caring for our children so they have a healthy and better start in life is what grownups do. Governors in both parties and a large majority of the Congress are ready, right now, to provide health care to 10 million American children, as a first step in overhauling our health care system.

Join us, Mr. President. Sign the bill and let's get to work.

Sitting with the first lady tonight was Steve Hewitt, the city manager of Greensburg, Kansas. Many of you remember Greensburg, our town nearly destroyed by a tornado last year.

Thanks to Steve's efforts, and hundreds of others in our state, and across the country, Greensburg will recover. Folks rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and local, state and federal governments assisted in the effort.

But more than just recover, the Kansans who live in Greensburg are building green, rebuilding a better community for their children and grandchildren; making shared sacrifices, and investments for the next generation.

Greensburg is not alone. You and I stand ready -- ready to protect our environment for future generations and stay economically competitive.

Mayors have committed their cities to going green; governors have joined together, leading efforts for energy security and independence; and the majority in Congress are ready to tackle the challenge of reducing global warming and creating a new energy future for America.

So we ask you, Mr. President: Will you join us? It's time to get to work.

Here in the heartland, we honor and respect military service.

We appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by soldiers and their families.

As governor of Kansas, I'm the commander in chief of our National Guard. Over the past five years, I have seen thousands of soldiers deployed from Kansas. I have visited our troops in Iraq; attended funerals and comforted families; and seen the impact at home of the war being waged.

We stand ready in the heartland and across this country, to join forces with peace-loving nations around the globe to fight the war against terrorists, wherever they may strike. But our capable and dedicated soldiers can't solve the political disputes where they are, and can't focus on the real enemies elsewhere.

The new Democratic majority of Congress and the vast majority of Americans are ready -- ready to chart a new course. If more Republicans in Congress stand with us this year, we won't have to wait for a new president to restore America's role in the world and fight a more effective war on terror.

The last five years have cost us dearly -- in lives lost; in thousands of wounded warriors whose futures may never be the same; in challenges not met here at home because our resources were committed elsewhere. America's foreign policy has left us with fewer allies and more enemies.

Join us, Mr. President. In working together with Congress to make tough, smart decisions, we will regain our standing in the world and protect our people and our interests.

I know government can work to benefit the people we serve because I see it every day, not only here in Kansas, but in states across the country.

I know government can work, Mr. President, because, like you, I grew up in a family committed to public service.

My father and my father-in-law both served in Congress; one a Republican and one a Democrat. They had far more in common than the issues that divided them: a love for their country that led them from military service to public service; a lifetime of working for the common good, making sacrifices so their children and grandchildren could have a better future.

They are called the "greatest generation." But I believe, like parents across America, that our greatest generations are still to come, that we must chart a new course, at home and abroad, to give our future greatest generations all the opportunities our parents gave us.

These are uncertain times, but, with strength and determination, we can meet the challenges together. If Washington can work quickly together on a short-term fix for families caught in the financial squeeze, then we can work together to transform America.

In these difficult times, the American people aren't afraid to face difficult choices.

But, we have no more patience with divisive politics.

Tonight's address begins the final year of this presidency, with new leaders on the horizon and uncertainty throughout our land. Conditions we face, at home and abroad, are results of choices made and challenges unmet.

In spite of the attempts to convince us that we are divided as a people, a new American majority has come together. We're tired of leaders who rather than asking us what we can do for our country, ask nothing of us at all.

We're Americans sharing a belief in something greater than ourselves, a nation coming together to meet challenges and find solutions; to share sacrifices and share prosperity; and focus, once again, not only on the individual good but on the common good.

On behalf of the new American majority -- the majority of elected officials at the national, state and local level, and the majority of Americans -- we ask you, Mr. President, to join us.

We're ready to work together, to be the America we have been and can be once again.

Thank you for listening. God bless and sleep well.

And, in the morning, let's get to work.

Envoking rhetoric of unity

Ruth Marcus
Washington Post
But it was very interesting, because, in that soft way, she actually called the president on a few things that are very much at the top of the Democratic agenda.

JIM LEHRER: And that was Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius with the Democratic response to the State of the Union.

And now back to David Brooks and Ruth Marcus.

Well, David, what did you think of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, she started by praising us all as part of a united country. And then she attacked pundits. I mean, aren't we Americans? Don't we bleed if we're cut?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but...

JIM LEHRER: And moving right along...

DAVID BROOKS: And moving right along... Aside from that, I thought, A, the delivery was very good. It's very hard to sit in a room and deliver a natural performance. And she did that very well.

And then the second thing that struck me was that, unlike the president, whose rhetoric sounds like it could have been delivered five years ago, clearly, the Obama campaign has had an effect here.

JIM LEHRER: She in fact is a supporter of Senator Obama.

DAVID BROOKS: She is a supporter of Barack Obama.

And she represented some of the themes that are current in the campaign, notably the transpartisan nature, not attacking the president, more, come joining us, the president, the phrases like common ground, let us work together, shared sacrifice.

This really is a reflection of what you could call the post-9/11 generation, a feeling that people wanted to sacrifice. They were never asked to sacrifice. And that hunger is still sitting out there, waiting for a politician who can do it in some sort of new way.


DAVID BROOKS: And, so, from that point of view, it was a pretty good speech.

JIM LEHRER: Ruth, she said specifically, "We have" -- talking about the American people -- "We have no more patience for divisive politics."

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I guess we will see about that. We have some divisive politics swirling all around us.

But I was struck, like David, with -- I think I'm allowed to say this, since I'm a fellow woman.

JIM LEHRER: A fellow woman?

RUTH MARCUS: A fellow woman.

JIM LEHRER: You're a sister woman.

RUTH MARCUS: Yes, exactly.

JIM LEHRER: You're a sister woman.

RUTH MARCUS: The soft tone, which is very -- there were echoes not only of Senator Obama's campaign, but of John F. Kennedy.

But it was very interesting, because, in that soft way, she actually called the president on a few things that are very much at the top of the Democratic agenda. And it was interesting that she did it in a sort of kinder, gentler way. The two things that I'm thinking about are the children's health insurance bill, which she...

JIM LEHRER: The 10 million children that she talked about.

RUTH MARCUS: The 10 million children, which the president has vetoed twice, if I'm not mistaken, and which there is very little prospect of agreement on. But I still think it's valuable, both politically and substantively, for Democrats to raise that.

The second thing was climate change, where the president talked about climate change in the speech. And that's a good thing. But he talked about it in terms of both a technological solution here and the need for an international solution. And she pushed on that. She said...

JIM LEHRER: She, of course, used the word green several times.

RUTH MARCUS: She used the word green. And she talked about the need for legislation to address it and how Congress was ready to do, if only he would step up to the plate, which, obviously, he chose not to do.

Prospects for bipartisanship

David Brooks
New York Times
I do think that there's a big middle in this country which has not been addressed by the political leadership, and that, if you had different style of leadership, a lot of the partisanship would wash away on issue after issue.

JIM LEHRER: David, you see it the same way, in terms of the specifics she talked about?

DAVID BROOKS: I do. It does raise the question -- and Ruth has sort of hinted at this -- is, are -- she said, we're not as divided as we seem.

Well, is that true or not?


DAVID BROOKS: Maybe we really are divided. There's actually a political science debate.

There's a guy named Morris Fiorina at Stanford who says, no, we're not as divided. If we actually had leadership that wasn't polarized, we would not be polarized. There's a guy named Allan O'Bromowich (ph) who says, no, actually, if you look at the data, we are that divided, and there's no escaping the polarization.

And that really is a fundamental debate that all politicians and all of us are going to have to reconcile. Somebody is right about that question. If we change leadership and have less polarized leadership, will we see a new political era? And can we trust each other to wage more high-minded campaigns? That's a theme that comes in the campaigns and it's just come in, I think, in what we have just heard.


And that was her theme, of course, about the new America.

And you have a little skepticism about this, David?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I actually -- I'm on the Morris Fiorina side. I do think that there's a big middle in this country which has not been addressed by the political leadership, and that, if you had different style of leadership, a lot of the partisanship would wash away on issue after issue.

JIM LEHRER: You agree?

RUTH MARCUS: I think maybe, and I think on some things.

And, if you look at one of the big challenges that the president laid out tonight on entitlement spending, Governor Sebelius said, people understood that there were big problems and understood that sacrifices were going to be asked from them. But the -- what politicians understand behind closed doors is the cost that that is going to require for them to address it.

And they don't want to take the political risk. So, maybe, on some issues, there's a way for us to transcend, and, on some issues, politics is going to rule.


RUTH MARCUS: Sorry to be the cynic.


Well, look, all of that aside, Ruth Marcus, thank you very much.

David Brooks, thank you very much.

And that is it for this PBS "NewsHour" special report on President Bush's State of the Union address.

We will see you online and again here tomorrow evening at our regular "NewsHour" time.

For now, I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you, and good night.