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State of the Union blog

Editor's Note: The following blog is a compilation from viewpoints expressed by Paul Begala and Robert Novak, co-hosts of CNN's political debate program "Crossfire." Follow along as they share their observations.

Facts on Pelosi's side

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President Bush delivers his State of the Union address.
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Bush speech Part I: The economy

Bush speech Part 2: Social Security

Bush speech Part 3: Faith-based initiatives

Bush speech Part 4: War on terror

Bush speech Part 5: Iraq
TRANSCRIPT
Full transcript of President Bush's State of the Union address...
• Part 1 -- Introduction
• Part 2 -- Economy
• Part 3 -- Social Security
• Part 5 -- War on terror
• Part 6 -- Iraq
• Part 7 -- Closing
SPECIAL REPORT
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George W. Bush

Posted: 10:40 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Nancy Pelosi has a tougher job. No one likes to follow the commander in chief on national security. The facts are on her side, however. She says the president is wrong and that a large number of Iraqis have not in fact been trained, and not enough has been done to rebuild Iraq. Good for her.

Pelosi critical but very cautious

Posted: 10:36 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

The opposition's response to State of the Union speeches seldom is very impressive. It is difficult to talk back to a president and Pelosi certainly did not deviate much from the usual mediocrity. What she is saying sounds like a copy of John Kerry's campaign speeches -- very critical but very cautious. There is no call for immediate withdraw from Iraq. It is hard to tell from what she is saying where she differs in substance from the president.

Reid soft-spoken, but message strong

Posted: 10:32 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Reid is using lots of values-laden language. Bush's Social Security plan is, he said, "immoral" and "wrong." He spoke of "old-fashioned moral values" and said we're "all God's children." That was very powerful. Reid is soft-spoken, but his message was very strong: It was, "Mister President, don't mess with Social Security."

Reid is no orator

Posted: 10:30 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Sen. Reid is no orator and he is proving it again tonight. He is essentially attacking the Bush programs and reiterating liberal goals. Predictably, his strongest statement is an attack on the president's Social Security plan -- but nothing new from what we have been hearing for weeks.

Reid very much a man of the West

Posted: 10:27 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Harry Reid is the man from Searchlight. He said he grew up with people of strong values, even if they didn't often speak of them. He's very much a man of the West, perhaps drawing a subtle contrast to the more -- shall we say -- voluble president, who loves to talk about his values.

Reid is giving some democratic ideas on jobs and taxes and trade, and a Marshall Plan for America. Good for him. Democrats need to stand FOR something, not just against everything.

Road to freedom

Posted: 10:23 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush's conclusion to his speech by talking about the road to freedom was a good way to wrap up the speech.

More here than meets the eye?

Posted: 10:20 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

"And so I say to the Iranian people tonight: As you stand for your liberty, America stands with you." What does he mean by that? After Sy Hersh's New Yorker story saying the United States is preparing to attack Iran this summer, I wonder if this is some kind of a rhetorical run-up to an attack? Presidents must be careful about raising the hopes of oppressed people.

When Eisenhower called on Eastern Europeans to rise up, the courageous people of Hungary did so, and in 1956 were slaughtered by the Soviets. America did nothing; we didn't want to start World War III in Europe. I hope the president has read James Michener's "Bridge at Andau" about that uprising. I just wonder if there's more here than meets the eye.

The president is recognizing the Iraqi and Afghan women in the First Lady's box -- women who cast their first free votes. I wonder if that means the president finally supports voting rights for the women and men who live in Washington D.C., which still has no voting rights in either the House or the Senate. His spokesman this week indicated Mr. Bush does not. But how is it he can wax eloquent about democracy 6,000 miles away, but deny it to his neighbors in Freedom's capital city?

The president says Iraqis are willing to fight for their freedom. So far, that's not been the case, and the president should admit that.

Bush not setting a timetable for pulling out troops

Posted: 10:16 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush is delivering effective oratory for a not very popular position in Iraq. In talking about not setting a timetable, the president is directly answering Ted Kennedy and his call for pulling out the troops. He is saying the troops will return home but not when, which is about the best you can do right now.

'Grumpy Old Men'

Posted: 10:12 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Deep into the speech the president looks relaxed and confident. But Hastert and Cheney look like Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in "Grumpy Old Men." And I love the forced standing ovations from the Republicans. They look like members of the old Soviet Politbuto during a Brezhnev speech. "Applaud, comrade, applaud!"

The president called for $350 million for the Palestinian Authority, as a reward, it would seem, for selecting Abu Mazen, who rejects terrorism. Joe Biden began to applaud. No one joined him. Why not? It's one of the truly good ideas in this speech. Good for Joe for recognizing it.

President Bush just mentioned Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two supposed American allies who have anti-democratic regimes. It was a gentle challenge, to be sure, but I'm glad he did it.

Bush praises Iraqi people

Posted: 10:10 p.m. ET
From Rober Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

He finally gets to Iraq after 43 minutes. President Bush made a very effective case in praising the Iraqi people. It is a very politically effective way of dealing with the issue of Iraq.

Recognizing people in the audience was started by Ronald Reagan and President Bush's recognition of the female Iraqi voter shows it is still effective.

First lady is a unifying figure in Bush presidency

Posted: 10:05 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

The president just acknowledged the first lady. She looks radiant. One of the few unifying figures in the Bush presidency. Indeed, the only one now that Colin Powell has departed the scene.

Oh my goodness. President Bush calls for protection for death penalty defendants. He's the NCAA champion of executions. As governor of Texas, he didn't just want an electric chair, he wanted a bench -- maybe bleachers. There's a strong chance, as the sainted Sister Helen Prejean argues in her new book, "The Death of Innocents," that we, the people, have killed innocent people on death row. Let's hope the president reads Sister Helen's book, and provides real protections for these folks.

The president is asking Congress to "give [our military] the tools they need for victory." He got a standing-O. Congress will overwhelmingly pass his $80 supplemental appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan. So Congress is doing its job -- funding the troops. But why isn't the president doing his -- giving those troops a strategy for victory and a trip home?

The president is extolling freedom again. Good for him. Let's hope he remembers those talking points next time he's speaking to the dictators in Saudi Arabia and China.

Bush far from 'axis of evil' rhetoric

Posted: 10:02 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush's comments about the war on terror are an extension of his inaugural address but I think he is trying to avoid making it seem that we are going to war all over the world to end tyranny.

Bush comments about peace in the Middle East due to the fact two democratic states are able to reach that goal would have been controversial four years ago, but is a claim he can make now. Bush is not threatening to go to war with Syria or Iran in his comments. He is far from the "axis of evil" rhetoric and not talking about preemptive war.

'Culture of life'

Posted: 9:57 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Now he's shifting to social issues. That's it on Social Security? Wait a minute, sir. You didn't make any tough choices. You didn't pick any of the bad options. You just rolled the skunk out into the Congressional garden party and said, "Y'all deal with this." That's not leadership.

The president is talking about "the culture of life." He stole that line from Pope John Paul II, and didn't even give him credit. The Holy Father is in the hospital right now, and the president should have wished him well as he stole his line. I suppose he didn't acknowledge the Holy Father because John Paul II believes the culture of life includes not merely outlawing abortion, but also his passionate opposition to the death penalty.

I had the honor of meeting His Holiness when he came to St. Louis to speak in favor of the culture of life. His appeal against the death penalty was so powerful, then-Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was in attendance, commuted the death sentence of a man who was about to be killed by the state.

No mention of bin Laden

Posted: 9:56 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

In his comments about allowing for an up or down vote on judges is the first time in the speech that he has made a negative statement about Democrats in Congress -- even though he doesn't use the word Democrat. He then brushed off lightly his faith-based initiative program.

His discussion of special training for defense counsel in capital cases is sort of a response to the lingering criticism of having so many people executed while he was governor of Texas.

Now he finally arrives at the war on terror 33 minutes into the speech. The president makes no mention, as might have been expected, of Osama bin Laden.

How's he going to pay for it?

Posted: 9:52 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Now the president is selling private accounts. But he's not saying how he's going to pay for it. Estimates of the cost of private accounts are that they'll cost $2 trillion over the first ten years to set up -- and trillions more after that. How's he going to pay for it? Borrow? Steal? Tax? Cut benefits. He cannot call his plan "fiscally responsible" if he will not say how he's going to pay for it.

The president says it'd be "4 percent" of your Social Security tax. But that's misleading. The total tax is 6 percent, and he's taking 4 of those 6 points. In other words, it's not "4 percent" of your Social Security tax -- it's 66 percent. The president ought to level with us.

Bush more specific than ever on Social Security

Posted: 9:48 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

President Bush is being very gutsy to say that there are painful proposals on the table to deal with Social Security. He is responding to the Democratic claim that there is no Social Security problem by laying out the problems that lie ahead if nothing is done.

He is making a very good politically argued, succinct account of what he is driving for in arguing that personal accounts give people control over their own money. Bush is being more specific than he has ever been on the Social Security plan, including specifying the four percentage points.

Bush's mention of defending the institution of marriage is a weak endorsement of something that was a major part of his campaign -- but he did endorse it.

The political math of Social Security

Posted: 9:45 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

Now we're at the meat of the coconut: Social Security. "One of the great moral successes of the 20th Century...so let's kill it." No, just kidding. He says he wants to "strengthen and save it." But when President Bush talks about "fixing" Social Security, I think of when the vet said he was going to "fix" my dog Major. He fixed him alright. But that which once worked fine didn't work no more, and Major wasn't too pleased with either the process or the result.

The 16 workers per retiree stat the president cites is very misleading. For the vast majority of Social Security's history it's been less than 10. But he's no longer using the word "crisis." Guess it didn't poll well. Or maybe he just couldn't sustain the argument. Kind of hard to say that the system running out of money in 2042 is a "crisis." Not when the federal budget is already out of money today, thanks to Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the rich.

Keep in mind the political math of Social Security. First, the president needs 60 votes to pass Social Security reform through the Senate. He has 55 Republican senators. He's got to hold all of them, and win over five Dems (or four plus Independent Jim Jeffords.) I haven't heard anything from him tonight that's likely to make a Democrat jump ship.

Very clever, very clever to cite Democrats who support various unpopular Social Security options, like raising the retirement age, which he attributes to my old boss, Bill Clinton. But the retirement age is already going up from 65 to 67. How high would the president like it to go: 70? 75? That's fine if you're a talking head like me, but what if you carry trays as a waitress, chase crooks as a cop, pound the pavement as a salesman? You really going to make them work till they drop?

It's 'Nooo-clear'

Posted: 9:39 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

The president is talking about health care, which is a key Democratic issue. That's politically smart. But did you notice that only the Republicans are standing and applauding? That's fine for a campaign rally, but this president cannot succeed without earning Democratic votes. So far, he ain't winning 'em over tonight.

Energy policy: Why doesn't someone tell him it's "NOOO-CLEAR," not "nuke-yoo-ler."

Interesting that he didn't directly call for drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. Could that be a bit of a nod to the Dems, or did it just poll poorly?

Now he's getting to his favorite domestic topic: Taxes.

But where's the beef? "A tax code that is pro-growth, easier to understand, and fair to all." That's it? Guess he's saving himself for Social Security.

The president calls for liberalizing immigration laws -- allowing illegal immigrants to stay here. That's usually death for a Republican, but he's doing it. Good for him.

Booing 'is in very bad form'

Posted: 9:35 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush is still providing no details on tax reform, even going into his fifth year. The guest worker program is Bush's program that is least popular with Republicans and will have a lot of trouble in Congress. Here comes the major domestic pitch in the State of the Union -- Social Security.

The start of Bush's discussion on Social Security is to reassure people that he doesn't want to kill the Social Security system. The booing of the president taking place during his discussion of Social Security is in very bad form and is usually not done.

We call that 'chutzpah'

Posted: 9:28 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

The president is actually talking about reducing the deficit. That's like an arsonist talking about Smokey the Bear. Give me a break. He inherited the strongest economy in history; he inherited the biggest surplus in history -- and he blew it. Which kind of surprised even me. I figured if George W. Bush would be good at anything, it'd be inheriting things.

Okay, now it's "junk lawsuits." Coming from a guy who only became president in 2000 when he won a junk lawsuit. In Texas we call that "chutzpah."

And why mention asbestos? Anybody out there ever been sued over asbestos? Me neither. But you know who has? I kid you not: Halliburton.

Nice pace

Posted: 9:23 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush is defending one of the most criticized programs of his first term by talking about No Child Left Behind. He has no apologies for it, certainly.

Bush is speaking at a nice pace. Sometimes he puts you to sleep because he speaks so slowly, but not tonight. The tort reform he is addressing is the favorite program of organized business and lobbyists in Washington. Health savings accounts are very unpopular with Democrats. That is a Republican style, market-oriented health care program.

No surprises though in the content of what Bush is saying about it. The energy plan is another favorite of Republican lobbyists. Right now he is in the traditional laundry list format of State of the Union addresses where he announces one program after another, but he will soon make a major diversion from that format.

Cheney not wearing his parka

Posted: 9:19 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

The president clearly loves this. And why shouldn't he? He gets to speak uninterrupted for an hour on any topic he likes. He is surrounded by warm applause -- at least from his fellow Republicans. And he's got Dick Cheney right behind him -- and Cheney's not even wearing his goofy parka.

Tying politicians together

Posted: 9:16 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

Bush's first line about Congress gathering as elected officials is a good touch to tie together American politicians with the people in newly democratic countries.

Bush is answering the Democratic complaint that he is taxing our children and grandchildren by laying out his case.

Bush is giving what conservative Republicans are looking for in talking about fiscal restraint.

Fine line between strong and arrogant

Posted: 8:31 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, "Crossfire" co-host

I love the State of the Union address. It's one of the few times the president speaks directly to the people he works for. Here's what I'll be looking for:

Social Security: How specific will he be? He'd better do more than vague generalities. Will he continue to argue that there's a "crisis," or will he fall back to the claim it's merely a "challenge"? His plan costs, by some accounts, up to $2 trillion. Where's the money coming from? And will he pledge not to cut Social Security retirement benefits for current and future retirees?

Iraq: Will he be a real leader or a cheerleader? A real leader will recognize that he was wrong about nearly everything going into this invasion; a cheerleader will do "rah-rah" stuff about how we're good and the terrorists are evil. Heck, my 4-year-old knows that. What I want to know is: What's your plan for victory and bringing the troops home?

Other issues: Will he embrace the social agenda of the far right? Will he just tell the truth about abortion: That he has a litmus test for judicial nominees, and will not put anyone on the Supreme Court who supports abortion rights?

Tone: Will he be Bush the uniter, or Bush the divider? He needs to be strong, but there's a fine line between strong and arrogant.

What I'm looking for

Posted: 8:30 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, "Crossfire" co-host

In tonight's State of the Union address I am looking to see if President Bush mentions any idea of an exit strategy from Iraq. I'm also looking to see if he mentions any details on Social Security reform and whether he goes beyond that to taxes. I am also interested to see which social issues he decides to highlight.


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