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Politics & Power

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State of the Union

In the last State of the Union address of his presidency, George W. Bush gave what many characterize as the most understated speech of his presidency. There were times where he pointed to the record of his administration and the successes they feel they have had such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the recent “surge” of troops in Iraq but much of the speech was about his legacy as president. The same president who has staunchly opposed the U.S. participation in the Kyoto Accords made an impassioned appeal to lawmakers to work to reduce global emissions and greenhouse gasses. He also spoke about making his tax cuts permanent as allowing them to expire would be essentially a tax increase in his view.

For the most part there were no great revelations of future plans for his last year in office or excessive boasting about accomplishments seen under his administration. In sharp contrast to the bold and brash first State of the Union address of his presidency that called for sweeping change, this State of the Union address saw a milder and more subdued George W. Bush. The president seemed to silently acknowledge the “lame-duck” nature of his remaining presidency with a few exceptions. Most notably among those exceptions was a stern warning to Congress that he would veto any legislation that included tax increases and the declaration of an executive order that he would issue to government agencies to not implement any “earmark” spending that had not been voted on by Congress.

The “earmark” order may be one of the boldest moves of the George W. Bush presidency. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way government does business for the last year of his term. By not allowing earmarks to be attached to non-legislative items, the president has effectively killed many forms of “backroom” deals in Washington. These “earmarks” that can represent billions of dollars in spending are the basis for compromise away from the floor of the House and Senate and facilitate many of the special interest giveaways bemoaned by many in and out of Washington. At some level it is a move that only an outgoing president could make. In his search for a legacy, George W. Bush may have hit upon one of the real positive changes needed in Washington for now and the future.

While the State of the Union address was not one of the most passionate or dynamic speeches in presidential history, it may end up containing one of the most significant acts of any president in the modern era. If the order were to be allowed to stand into the next administration, it would change the way many in Washington do business. It could even one day be seen as the defining positive act of the George W. Bush presidency.

Leaving the hall, the president stopped to sign numerous autographs and greet well-wishers in what was clearly an emotional time for him. Despite the many faces of George W. Bush presented by both the administration spin machine and the press as well as the innumerable characterizations of the president made by politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle it was clearly a human being soaking up the moment who walked out of the hall after his speech. He stopped to shake hands often and refused no request for an autograph even turning to reach back for programs being thrust at him from all directions dutifully signing each one with the Sharpie he was carrying. In the end it was the same George W. Bush that won over the hearts of many Americans during his first campaign for the White House that showed up for his final State of the Union address.

As we look forward to the coming change in January of 2009 and wonder what the future will bring it is clear that an era is coming to an end in America. For those who love him and those who hate him alike there is no question that America will be a different place without George W. Bush at the helm.

Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer | Give your feedback on this article.

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