WASHINGTON (BP)–President George W. Bush continued to call for an aggressive effort to spread democracy and protect Americans in his fifth State of the Union address Jan. 31.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Bush spent a notable portion of his 51-minute speech defending the United States’ efforts to spread freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, saying such a campaign is needed to make America secure.
The president addressed numerous domestic issues but touched only briefly on some of the concerns of pro-life advocates and other social conservatives. He called for Congress, however, to approve legislation outlawing all human cloning and research on human embryos.
Bush made his speech after months of mounting criticism by many Democrats and anti-war activists regarding the handling of the insurgency and transition in Iraq. He quickly signaled he would not back down in Iraq or in the war against terrorism.
“The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership –- so the United States of America will continue to lead,” Bush said.
“[W]e seek the end of tyranny in our world,” he said. “Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction.
“Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.”
The president repeated a familiar theme of his since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, saying “one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam –- the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death.”
There will be no honor or peace if America retreats, Bush said.
“By allowing radical Islam to work its will -– by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself -– we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage,” he said.
Regarding bringing American military forces home, the president said the “road of victory is the road that will take our troops home.” Decisions on decreasing the U.S. military presence in Iraq “will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Bush said he would continue to seek advice about Iraq from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress but also warned his critics: “Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.”
He also spoke directly to the people of Iran, which is now headed by a militant Islamic regime that has called for the destruction of Israel and threatened to mount a nuclear program.
“We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom,” Bush said to the Iranians. “And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.”
In addressing domestic issues, the president described America as a “more hopeful nation” in recent years and cited the reduction of abortions, drug use, violent crimes and welfare cases to support his claim. He also said support for adoption and sexual abstinence has helped bring positive change.
In advocating for the sanctity of human life, Bush said, “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight, I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: Human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator –- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”
The president recognized the two newest members of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who were in the House of Representatives chamber for the speech. He said Americans are “discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage” but said he would continue to choose nominees, like Roberts and Alito, “who understand that judges must be servants of the law and not legislate from the bench.”
Alito was confirmed earlier in the day to the high court in a 58-42 vote by the Senate. Alito and Roberts joined Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer in attending the State of the Union speech.
Some social conservatives applauded much of the president’s speech but expressed disappointment he did not address their concerns more fully.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, commended Bush’s comments on such issues as bioethics, abstinence and adoption but said, “Unfortunately, the president stopped short of addressing the necessity of a marriage amendment that would protect the union of one man and one woman. All efforts to establish a healthy and stable Union stem from the stability and protection of our most basic foundation –- family.”
Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, said the president was like a “street fighter” in confronting “anti-Americanism and liberal misrepresentations and accusations.”
In a written statement for National Review Online, she said Bush “skated carefully around key domestic issues, couching them merely as concerns and challenges that confront a hopeful nation.”
The president’s comment about “activist courts that try to redefine marriage” brought praise from Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, the leader in seeking to pass a federal amendment to protect marriage.
“Almost two years ago, President Bush stood with AFM’s diverse coalition to endorse our marriage amendment,” Daniels said in a written release. “Today, we remain grateful to him for his unwavering support in response to a rising tide of marriage lawsuits poised to strike down marriage as a man and woman.”
Democratic leaders criticized the speech. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Bush’s “failed policies and waning credibility were on display for all Americans to see. Instead of using issues to divide, we need to come together around our shared values and common goals as Americans.”
“Our country is ready for change and a new direction. Democrats offer a vision and a new direction guided by the belief that together America can do better,” Dean said.
Democrats provided an unusual reaction after one comment by Bush. When he said, “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security,” Democrats stood and applauded to celebrate their victory over the president.
In addressing other domestic issues, Bush called for permanent tax cuts, approval of the line-item veto for the president and an energy initiative to slash America’s dependence on imported oil.