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Shorter State of the Union will stress common ground
President Bush on Tuesday will deliver a stripped-down State of the Union address, leaving out the usual laundry list of policy initiatives, and emphasizing common ground with Democrats in a nod to the new political reality on Capitol Hill, the White House said yesterday.
“Some of the old State of the Union formulas have kind of run their course,” spokesman Tony Snow said.
“Part of the calculation here is that a lot of times these speeches, they just go on and on and you lose people,” Mr. Snow said. “It’s better to spend some time focusing on big issues so that people do get a sense of your engagement with them, and there will be opportunities to pick up other topics in much greater detail later on.”
The presentation, which will skip the old, hourlong formula in which “every department and every agency gets a line or a mention,” was devised because, as Mr. Snow said with a smile, “we want people to watch.”
Another change will be the president’s audience. For the first time, he will address a Democratic majority in the joint chamber. Behind him, right next to Vice President Dick Cheney, will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. This scenario has influenced the speech, which will seek to enunciate issues on which Republicans and Democrats can agree.
“In that sense, maybe it does reflect a little bit of the political reality,” Mr. Snow said.
The spokesman said Mr. Bush will focus on a few broad themes, including the war on terrorism, energy, health care, immigration and education.
Mr. Snow said that although Mr. Bush will use some of his prime-time address to lay out the domestic agenda for his final two years in office, he also will devote a portion to defending his new Iraq strategy, which calls for sending more than 21,500 additional troops to the war-torn country.
“We’ve noted all along that the speech is not a one-time-only engagement with the American public. It’s worth talking about,” he said.
The president said in a television interview yesterday that he understands there is “skepticism” about his Iraq plan. But he added, “I believe it will work.”
As for the Democrats, the White House said they should offer their own plan on Iraq if they oppose the president. Moreover, Mr. Snow said, the new majority should wait until Mr. Bush delivers his address on Tuesday.
“We understand that because of politics — I mean, people are already prebutting his speech they haven’t heard. And they’re developing their responses to policies they haven’t seen. So we understand how that works,” he said.
Still, Mr. Bush plans to offer some olive branches to Democrats, and will seek to reach across party lines in search of consensus.
“The fact is that there are going to be a number of policies here that are going to be good politics because they’re good policies. And they’re going to offer opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to work together on areas where they do have a vested interest in making this a stronger and better country,” Mr. Snow said.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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