Unlike many of my fellow Democrats, I have lot of sympathy for President Bush. I was encouraged when he first ran for president in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative.” Contrary to what many believe, I have found Bush’s political philosophy to encompass a lot of “liberal” elements: government-sponsored social programs, commitment to global democracy, tolerant policies toward immigration, etc.
Bush’s State of the Union address on Monday was clearly grounded on conservative principles: empowerment of individual, free market, tough national security policy. At the same time, it actually included many proposals liberals could agree on. Bush advocated investing in new environment-friendly energy sources and cutting greenhouse gas emission. He advocated for an increase of the U.S.‘s outreach to fight global hunger and poverty. He backed the establishment of independent Palestine and commitment to free trade and democratization around the world.
Unfortunately, those who watched the address must agree Bush has failed to build a bridge over the chasm of mistrust and partisanship that stands between him and the Democrats in Congress. Bush’s address was essentially a restatement of his ideological challenge to Democrats with a merely “thoughtful” addition of several appealing political packages.
If a politician can’t persuade other politicians, he should soundly defeat them in an intellectual debate. By presenting a coherent conservative agenda while in office, Bush could have set public debate by its own merits. Yet, the ideological thrust of Bush’s address was blunted by his inconsistent policy proposals. While advocating small government, Bush still supports No Child Left Behind and the Pell Grants for poverty program. Condemning earmarks and spending, Bush supports government funding of energy research and $30 billion of additional funding to humanitarian outreach. Bush’s defense of worldwide human rights leaves behind the question of whether such a stand supersedes consideration of the United States’ own national interest. I almost felt as if Bush were awkwardly playing political shrewdness in his address: clinging to conservative rhetoric, defending his pet projects and offering several popular proposals all at the same time.
His final State of the Union address demonstrated again that Bush is a man who sought to do great things for the world. However, Bush now faces the accusation that he either failed to build a political consensus or live up to his own conservative philosophy, or perhaps both. Whoever becomes the next president of the United States, I hope he or she does not fall into same political entrapment that President Bush now faces.
Jong Eun Lee is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a former politics columnist for The Eagle.