Wednesday, January 24, 2007

With a tone perhaps more conciliatory than his critics have come to expect, President Bush emphasized in his 2007 State of the Union address many of the themes and issues on which he should be able to play at least some modest role of “uniter,” not “divider.” Mr. Bush front-loaded domestic issues and offered Democrats a series of seemingly unobjectionable footholds on the issue of terrorism, in addition to the more controversial assertions on Iraq which we all knew Democrats would not support.

Alas, it was not to be, not in this poisonous political atmosphere. In too many instances, from health insurance to energy to immigration to national security, the Democrats could not even applaud their own ideas when adopted and presented Tuesday night. Tellingly, Democrats could not even bring themselves to applaud a vigorous war on terror. “• One question has surely been settled: To win the war on terror, we must take the fight to the enemy,” the president said. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sat behind the president unmoved and silent.

So, of course, Democrats would not be seen applauding a call for victory in an Iraq war which they have already cast to defeat: “Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.” Silence. As the cameras showed, Sen. Joe Lieberman was the only Democrat to rise to this last notion: “[W]hatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Only a call of support for the troops could rouse Democratic applause.

This is new terrain. It extends opposition to Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy to opposition to a vigorous prosecution of the war on terrorism generally. It makes a mockery of the words of Sen. James Webb, the freshman Virginia Democrat, in his response to the president: “Not one step back from the war against international terrorism.” It also makes a mockery of the Democrats’ “support” for the troops.

The other policy areas that Mr. Bush presented Tuesday evening should be grounds for dialogue and, perhaps, eventual agreement. On health insurance, Mr. Bush proposed what amounts to a tax on wealthy Americans to extend coverage for the poor. Rep. Charles Rangel called this “bad policy.” “Such is the knee-jerk state of partisan suspiciousness that when the president actually endorses a tax increase — a tax increase that would primarily hit the well-off, no less — Democrats still howl,” wrote The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, not known for Bush apologetics.

On immigration, the open-borders president offered much of the same, which should also be palatable to Democrats. This season of obstructionism seems to know few bounds.

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