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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

State of the Union a first political salvo

After days and weeks of Democrats dominating the political headlines, it was understandable that President Bush was chomping at the bit to get his side of the story out.

And that he did last night in his State of the Union speech to Congress, the nation and the world.

There was little in the speech to surprise his listeners. The president understandably defended his foreign adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq as contributing to the long-term security of the United States.

He deftly wrapped his foreign policy comments with praise for the men and women of the armed forces, a stand his Democratic opponents must applaud.

On two fronts, Bush was somewhat disappointing: his defense of current and proposed tax cuts and his promotion of the steps taken domestically to ensure homeland security.

Between now and election day, the president will have to do a much stronger job of explaining and defending the administration's stance on these two areas if he hopes to win many swing voters in the fall elections.

The tax cuts have arguably had some positive impact on the economy, at least as is measured by the stock market. But as many critics — including Hawai'i Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case — have pointed out, the tax cuts have had little impact on the job market thus far.

And a robust economy must be measured in more than corporate profits; it must reflect a nation where those who want jobs can get them.

Tacitly, the president acknowledged this hole in his economic program with his welcome announcement of his "Jobs for the 21st Century" program designed to ensure workers will have the skills they need for a high-tech economy.

The program includes retraining workers, increasing aid for community colleges and pushing public schools to provide more help for students struggling with math and science.

Bush stoutly defended his administration's actions to boost homeland security through the Patriot Act, and he left no doubt that he intends to extend and strengthen that law if possible.

But he failed to satisfactorily address concerns raised by critics who say the act comes at a substantial cost to well-established civil liberties.

Again, the president rightfully used his hour in the national spotlight last night to defend his administration, offer his vision and promote his policies.

But taken as a political speech, last night's State of the Union failed to seal the case for the president's re-election.

We deserve to hear much more from the president on the tax, homeland security and other contentious issues as the campaign unfolds.