Kent Bush: President Bush struggles to salvage legacy

Kent Bush

As President George W. Bush took the podium for his final State of the Union address, the lame-duck leader sought to redefine history and restore his legacy.

History likely won't be kind to Bush. His shining moment may have been the tough talk and rapid response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the war on terror has languished in its attempt to subdue a guerilla force with a conventional army. The length of the war and the ineptitude of the Iraqi leaders to form a government capable of sustaining itself when the U.S. Armed forces are removed will not bode well for Bush.

The economy will also damage Bush's legacy. Record oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and a country to the brink of recession are not the hallmarks of a well-run economy.

Kansas was honored to have its governor, Kathleen Sebelius, deliver the Democratic response to Bush's final State of the Union address.

But Bush and Sebelius were so uninspiring that, together, they couldn't have convinced a burning man to jump into a swimming pool.

Sebelius seized on repetition to drive home her points. Repetition is a good technique. But repetitiveness is hackneyed. It is a fine line that Sebelius crossed.

She utilized the phrase "join us" five times in her five minutes.

The obvious attempt was to show that Bush was not connected with the wishes and beliefs of the American people so he needed to join what Sebelius would go on to call "a new American majority" to get real work accomplished. Sebelius' five "join us" tags included:

1) Calling for bipartisan action to continue the work the Democratically controlled Congress has already begun.

2) Urging Bush to sign the SCHIP bill that would better fund health care for uninsured children.

3) Asking the president to join many mayors and a majority in Congress to protect the environment from global warming and seek energy independence.

4) Criticizing the war in Iraq as ineffective and criticizing the war's costs - both in lives lost and in resources wasted away from America.

5) Asking the president to do bipartisan work to restore America to its past glory.

However, despite trouble getting started, in her last few paragraphs, Sebelius overcame the obvious discomfort of being thrust into the national spotlight and delivered a first-class call to idealism.

"In spite of the attempts to convince us that we are divided as a people, a new American majority has come together. We are tired of leaders who rather than asking what we can do for our country, ask nothing of us at all.

"We are Americans sharing a belief in something greater than ourselves, a nation coming together to meet challenges and find solutions; to share sacrifices and share prosperity; and focus, once again, not only on the individual good but on the common good.

"On behalf of the new American majority - the majority of elected officials at the national, state and local level, and the majority of Americans, we ask you, Mr. President, to join us. We are ready to work together, to be the America we have been - and can be once again."

Sen. Barack Obama's response was on point with Sebelius.

Both speak of a different course for the future. Both seek a new spirit in political leadership.

Even if the governor stays on the sidelines in the national race, her speech certainly laid the groundwork for Obama's visit to the state.

It was also the first parting shot at a president struggling to salvage his legacy. Bush will have to work with the group Sebelius called the "new American majority" if he is to accomplish anything in his final year. But with limited support from the American people and a Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush will find himself on the short side of the bargaining table in most circumstances.

Augusta Gazette