George Bush makes his first CPAC appearance since his election today, in the last year of his presidency. People might be surprised to hear that, but Bush has let Dick Cheney make the CPAC appearances, and with good reason. While Bush has been a stalwart on national defense and judicial nominations, he has hardly wowed conservatives on spending discipline. His remarks today marks the beginning of a valedictory cycle that will take him all the way through to January 20th of next year.
8:05 - "My spirits are up, my energy is high, and I will finish strong!" He encourages CPAC to support the Republican nominee "who will carry the conservative banner" in the next election. He never did mention John McCain, but that might be because Huckabee remains in the race.
8:04 - People start chanting "Four more years!" again, and Bush shakes his head and laughs. I think he's looking forward to parole rather than an extension of his sentence.
8:03 - We must be getting to the end, because now Bush is talking about Reagan. That's the universal CPAC sign of a conclusion.
7:59 - Bush is getting to the finish, with remarks about strong constructionist judges and other policy goals, following up with broader themes about the military and the strength of the American people. It has been an effective speech -- warm at times, a little boiler-plate at others, but overall one of his better "among-friends" appearances. He's used humor effectively, too. He notes that historians continue to analyze "the original George W.", and that if they're still working on #1, #43 "doesn't have to worry about it."
7:56 - "When the history of this period is written, it will show that we were right."
7:55 - "FISA legislation expires next week. I don't think the al-Qaeda threat expires next week. ... The time for temporary fixes is over."
7:53 - Fausta is sitting next to me, live-blogging this as well.
7:52 - "We believe in the transformative power of freedom. ... We know that a free Iraq will be a friend to America, an ally against terrorism..."
7:50 - Now he's talking about the surge in Iraq. He reminds people that his opponents declared defeat, including some who called for a "well-managed defeat to boost US credibility". Will he credit John McCain for his support of the surge?
7:48 - Outlines the case for removing Saddam Hussein, saying it was "the right decision then, and it is the right decision today." They now have elected a representative government and reject terrorism.
7:46 - Emphasizes the human-rights aspect of engaging in Afghanistan. "They have a future that holds promise and hope ... We will stand with Afghanistan ... Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists who wish to do us harm."
7:42 - A funny moment: Bush talks about reaching out to troubled souls by putting an arm around them and saying that they are loved. Someone in the audience yelled out, "We love you!" Bush laughed, and said, "Well, thank you. My soul is not that troubled, but thank you."
7:40 - George Bush declares victory on stem-cell research. The discovery of transforming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells validated his tough stand on federal funding for cloning and hEsc research.
7:37 - On entitlement: "Our opponents have not put any ideas on the table. ... It is time for them to stop talking and start acting ...."
7:36 - A president that revokes his executive order to defund non-legislative earmarks "will have some explaining to do". And had better do it in their second term, I'd say.
7:34 - Bush wants to sell his fiscal discipline, but not too many people are cheering this section. His veto threat on budget overruns in next year's budget does get applause.
7:32 - He says the economic stimulus package reflects the principles of his government -- putting taxes back in the hands of the taxpayers -- but the best long-term stimulus would be making his tax cuts permanent. That gets a cheer.
7:30 - He is reviewing his record of tax cuts. This could be a tweak at McCain, but McCain has gone on record pledging to fight to make the tax cuts permanent. "Here is the bottom line -- tax relief works!"
7:28 - "We didn't seek the approval of editorialists before deciding [on policy] ... and we darned sure didn't seek permission from groups like Code Pink and MoveOn before taking action."
7:25 - My mistake; Bush spoke here after his election. This is in fact a bookend. He reminds the conference that the main issue before CPAC as activists is the presidential election.
7:24 - Bush says that Dick Cheney is "the best Vice President in history."
7:23 - He has found an even tougher job than President: "Father of the bride!" He says Laura believes that "son-in-law to the President" could be even worse.
7:22 - "Good morning!" He thanks CPAC for adjusting the schedule; he will fly to Tennessee afterwards to visit with the victims of the tornado storm that struck there and in Arkansas.
7:21 - The introductory speeches at CPAC, unlike other venues, are actually introductions. That's a nice change.
7:17 - Mitch McConnell notes that Bush has a reputation as a practical joker, and initially thought the early time for the speech was another gag. (Bush was supposed to speak at 10:30.)
7:16 - Bush gets greeted by chants of "Four more years!" Copies of the Constitution will get distributed later today, I suppose ...