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A Wartime State of the Union - January 30, 2002

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Unlike many other State of the Union addresses that basically tried to please every agency of government, the current president appeared to be taking the road a little bit less traveled.

The closest parallel to Bush's speech, in terms of significance, may have been the State of the Union Address, January 1942. It was of course given by Franklin D. Roosevelt one month after Pearl Harbor.

Similar to the terrorism of today, Pearl Harbor was intended to stun and terrify the nation. Roosevelt made it clear that such despicable tactics would not work. He boldly announced, "We have not been stunnedthe mood of quiet, grim resolution which here prevails bodes ill for those who conspired and collaborated to murder world peace."

As we fast-forward to January 2002, we see shades of the same sort of resolve in President Bush. He told us, "During these last few months, I have been humbled and privileged to see the true character of this country in a time of testing. Our enemies believed America was weak and materialistic, that we would splinter in fear and selfishness. They were as wrong as they are evil."

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush employed broad themes and big visions. He called attention to the primary hazards that threaten the American way of life.

The President laid out three goals for our time:
1) Win the war on terrorism;
2) protect homeland security; and
3) revitalize the economy.

Clearly the goal of wiping out terrorism remains first and foremost. The President exhibited calm persistence as he reiterated the determination to bring about justice.

Protection of our homeland goes hand in hand with winning the war on terrorism. President Bush recommended sufficient funding for homeland security. He focused on those who lost loved ones, stressing that the nation will not forget the debt owed to those who have survived.

Third, but close in level of importance to the other two, is the challenge of growing the economy.

Enron was not specifically mentioned, but its impact was still present. In a constructive response to the controversial bankruptcy, Bush asked for accountability from American businesses. He made a plea for more responsible corporate citizenship. To avoid Enron-like suffering for employees in the future, the president called upon Congress to safeguard pensions from similar kinds of reduction in value.

As outlined in the economic stimulus package adopted last month by the House, the President suggested insurance tax credits for Americans who have lost their jobs. The President also focused on ways to improve access to health insurance for displaced workers. He even brought many from the other side of the aisle out of their seats by referring to a Patient's Bill of Rights and prescription drug coverage for seniors.

In addition, the President talked about reauthorization of the welfare reform that began in 1996, an increase in energy production to lessen our dependence on outside sources, and greater defense spending for rebuilding, modernization and maintenance of our military.

President Bush reminded us of the timeless lessons of Sept. 11. That "evil is real" and must be opposed. That we have come to know truths that we will never again question. That deep in our collective character there is an honor that transcends our differences. He even reminded America that "God is near."

This is the third time that President George W. Bush has addressed a joint session of Congress. But because of his post-Sept. 11 speech, expectations for the President's State of the Union Address were quite high. If we didn't know it before, we know it now. This is one president we should never "misunderestimate."

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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