Bush's unfinished business

President Bush delivered his last State of the Union address, urging Congress to pass the economic stimulus bill and vowing to use vetoes to cut congressional earmark spending. Bush is

What happened

President Bush gave his final State of the Union address on Monday, proposing few new initiatives for the last year of his presidency. He spent much of the 53-minute speech talking about Iraq, but he also proposed $300 million in private-school vouchers for poor students, urged Congress to pass the economic stimulus bill, and said he would use an executive order and vetoes to reduce congressional earmarks this year. “We have unfinished business before us," Bush said, "and the American people expect us to get it done.” (Bloomberg)

What the commentators said

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Six years later, same speech, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). Except that instead of a looming recession and a war, as in 2002, we now have a looming recession and two wars—and “far less sympathy and respect” from the rest of the world. If Bush had built on “the unity that followed the 9/11 attacks,” he could have touted some real accomplishments.

“The Bush Presidency is far from over,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Sure, with “his low approval rating and a Democratic Congress,” Bush has “limited ability to shape legislation.” But even “a lame duck president” has more power “than anyone else on the planet” to influence foreign affairs. Bush can use his last year to “push back against a public pessimism” of the U.S. role in the world. It may not seal his legacy, but it will at least “aid his successor.”

“Bush can’t do much for his successors,” really, said John Dickerson in Slate. The two leading Republican candidates are “essentially running against him,” and the “laundry list of programs” he mentioned are politically untenable and were mostly meant to “box in Democrats.” A big point of his speech was to “remind Congress and the American people that he’s still relevant,” but he didn’t say anything “to prove" it.

Relevant? He wasn’t even the main story at his own speech, said Frank James in the Chicago Tribune’s The Swamp blog. The press covering the address was much more interested in Barak Obama’s apparent snub of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. If the press gallery is any indication, this is one more sign that “journalists and perhaps the nation are already moving past Bush.”

Bush is “still a force to be reckoned with,” said the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. And he rejected “any suggestion of irrelevance” by making an appeal to cooperate and get things done. He was right to take on pork spending and push for Social Security and Medicare fixes. Congress doesn’t agree with all this, but maybe the quick deal on the economic stimulus package will grease the wheels of bipartisanship.

The “bipartisan consensus” is that “the country needs change,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial (free registration). The anti-earmark push is “laudable,” and Bush should try to clean up some of his “messy, unfinished business” in his last year. But “the state of the union is marked by deep impatience for new leadership.”

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