This week marks the official start of the presidential election campaign in America. On Tuesday two important events took place, the first was a meeting of the Democratic Party in Iowa which held a primary election between the candidates, the second was president Bush’s yearly State of the Union address to the nation. For whatever else this election may bring, it promises an exciting and important campaign.
The State of the Union Address is a very improtant media event in the United States. It gives the president a televised hour, during which he can talk about any issues he deems important. This year’s speech was especially important, because it prepares the stage for the upcoming election campaign. One of the biggest television networks in America (ABC) devoted two hours of it’s prime time to broadcasting the presiden’s speach in a program called “The State of the Union Address and the Democratic Response”.
The speach was prepared months in advance and the President was said to have spent weeks practicing his delivery. As usual with this president, it turned out to be quite a show.
With the economy in recession and the budget showing the largest deficit in history (See figure), the president had no choice, but to stand firmly on issues which made him. He spoke with confidence and zeal about the war he won and how it was the right thing to do.
Speaking in the American House of Congress, where the majority is held my his own party, Bush could count on a warm welcome. And warm it was. His speech was punctuated by exalted phrases such as “America this evening is a Nation called to great responsibilities. And we are rising to meet them?”, and each one was awarded by a standing ovation from the representatives. I have a feeling that the hour long speech, would be only half as long if these cheers were ommited.
The president’s prime focus was on War. War against Iraq, war against Afghanistan, war against Terror. In his speech he made clear the divisions which formed in the American political scene during his presidency. He said: “We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.” He didn’t declare a new war, but defended the one in Iraq at great lengths. The only thing, which remains unclear is the reason for the war. The key issue of weapons of mass destruction, has turned into “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities”. He also remained confident about his decision to take USA to war virtually alone and he added that “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.”
In the speech however, Bush had a tendency to contradict himself. He said, that it is good, that America went to war on it’s own, and then read out a list of allies “Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador” (all great military powers, as you can see). He said that the world is safer after 3 years of his presidency, but kept remainding the constant threats of terrorism.
The reactions to the presidents speech can be found in very many magazines online (Salon, Washington Post, Toronto Star). It is interesting to observe how differrent the opinions are, but there is a theme they share. The president seemed overconfident, while the issues in his speech were not very strong. Even the usually supportive Washington Post, called the president “cocky”. It seems that the speech made Bush look like he’s politically weakened and is trying to regain some of his popularity at the start of the election year. That didn’t really work however, and his popularity ratings taken immediatelly after the speech were only 45% (Clinton’s State of the Union address gave him 52% in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal).
The president also made an unfortunate issue of “sanctity of marrige”. He said that the institution of marrige as the union between a woman and a man should be protected. That will of course turn the gay community against him, while it doesn’t really satisfy his convervative voter-base, because they would like to see all types oh homosexual unions deligalized…
Overall, it was en extremely interesting speach, but it did’t really give Bush what his campaing would need: a good start.
The other important event that took place this week was the primary elections of the Democratic Party presidential candidates in Iowa. This event turned out to be quite a surprise, because one of the main front-runners Howard Dean came in only third with 17% of the votes. This was a shock for many (me included), because his overall ratings usually placed him first or second.
I will not weep for Dean if he is replaced by another strong candidate. Maybe Kerry will be that candidate… One thing is certain, Howard Dean did America a huge favor. It was him who first openly opposed Bush’s policies on such issues as the war, medical care, etc. It is thanks to him that people started to consider alternatives, and stopped calling everyone who disagreed unpatriotic. I’m looking forward to the results of the next primaries in New Hamshire.
For whatever else this year may bring it will surely give as an exciting and important election campaign in the US of A.