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January 28, 2008

Last Song

George Bush makes his final State of the Union speech tonight, and according to the Washington Post, it will focus on two themes associated with the administration: economy and the war. The White House does not plan on turning the SOTU speech into a valediction, instead focusing on the tasks in front of the nation and the necessity of action in 2008. They only hope that they have an audience:

For years, President Bush and his advisers expressed frustration that the White House received little credit for the nation's strong economic performance because of public discontent about the Iraq war. Today, the president is getting little credit for improved security in Iraq, as the public increasingly focuses on a struggling U.S. economy.

That is the problem Bush faces as he prepares to deliver his seventh and probably final State of the Union address tonight. For the first time in four years, he will come before Congress able to report some progress in tamping down violence in Iraq. Yet the public appears to have moved on from the war -- and possibly from Bush himself.

The economy has supplanted Iraq as the top public concern, and with voters shifting their focus toward the presidential primaries, Bush faces a steep challenge in persuading Americans to heed his words on the war, economic policy or any other issue, according to administration officials, lawmakers and outside observers.

"Very large segments of the American people have written him off already and have moved on to the next chapter," said Jeremy Rosner, a Clinton White House aide and Democratic pollster. Even some of the Republican presidential candidates appear eager to distance themselves from the president.

Those "very large segments" wrote him off in 2001 and have never written him back into the picture. Bush proved highly relevant as a president in 2007 after Democrats took control of Congress. Last year at this time, people like Rosner dismissed Bush as a lame duck with no leverage at all to pursue his agenda -- and he spent all year beating Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi like tympanis at a Wagnerian opera. One might have thought that instructive, but apparently not for Rosner.

Bush knows that 2008 will shape up similarly to 2007. The election year will make it tougher to get anyone's legislation through Congress, and he who defines the agenda first will have the upper hand. The SOTU speech gives Bush a strong national platform to do exactly that, and just as in 2007, he will use it as a launching point for the infighting to come.

What will he say about the war and the economy? He prevailed on the war in 2007 and can show real improvement as a result. He may remind the US that some used the floor of Congress to prematurely declare defeat in 2007, although decorum probably prevents him from naming Harry Reid as chief defeatist. He will undoubtedly urge Congress to make his tax cuts permanent to bolster confidence among the investor class, and remind them that that investor class includes at least 70% of all Americans, thanks to pensions and 401k accounts.

I will live-blog the SOTU speech tonight. Be sure to check back this evening for continual updates.


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