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Inside Politics

State of the speech: Close to a home run

George W. Bush
Harry Reid

(CNN) -- Given his recent dramatic re-election, his ability to get major legislation through Congress and the even larger Republican majorities in Congress, President Bush did not need to hit a home run Wednesday night.

Nevertheless, he came very close.

While Social Security overhaul is far from a done deal, the president gave his strongest State of the Union address yet, and generally succeeded in doing three things he needed to do:

  • Give a clear overview of his 2005-2006 legislative agenda.
  • Begin the effort in earnest to convince the public there should be major changes in Social Security.
  • Give initial comfort to hesitant congressional Republicans that he can be an effective leader on the politically volatile issue of Social Security.
  • Major points

    While President Bush focused primarily on Social Security, Iraq and the war on terror, he addressed several other topics that will likely earn him political benefits:

  • He made landmark, public rebukes to non-Democratic allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and suspected terrorist collaborators in Syria. His statements not only pleased foreign policy hawks but also presented a clear challenge to these regimes.
  • He offered two surprise policy proposals on HIV/AIDS treatment and anti-gang initiatives designed to draw bipartisan support.
  • In a manner more explicit than many expected, Bush also appealed directly to his socially conservative base by continuing to condemn (but perhaps not with any real legislative plans) abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex marriage.
  • The exchange between the mother of a fallen Marine and a first-time female Iraqi voter offered one of the most poignant moments in recent State of the Union history.
  • But although the president gave a concise (53 minutes vs. Clinton's 89-minute speech in 2000) and convincing speech (60 percent of viewers rated it positively in a CNN instant poll), the determined Democratic rebuttals from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made it clear that Democrats are not about to go along easily with much of the president's agenda -- especially his push for Social Security changes.

    Lasting effects

    So what will be the lasting impact of the speech? It will probably have a stronger foreign policy impact (new challenges to Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) than a domestic impact. Most of the domestic battles are new and the real campaigning will begin now that the major speeches are over.

    As the Social Security battle moves forward, however, one thing is certain: The president must gain more supporters, namely some senior Republican committee chairmen in the House as well as some swing-state Democratic senators, in order to push through his agenda.

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