The United States faces many challenges, too many challenges, perhaps, to reasonably expect them to be solved in the next year.
In his last State of the Union address Monday night, President Bush did a good job of identifying those challenges. He outlined actions to address some issues and invited members of Congress to come up with more solutions. As Americans would expect, however, Bush's speech included no bold new initiatives for the last year of his presidency.
Bush seemed confident and comfortable in front of the microphone even cracking a joke about where Americans who have said they are willing to pay higher taxes could send their checks. He acknowledged a downturn in the nation's economy and urged Congress to approve a $150 billion plan that would offer tax rebates to families and incentives to businesses.
He came down hard on Congress for attaching "earmarks" for pet projects onto unrelated legislation. Although news reports indicated Bush has signed spending bills that included about 55,000 earmarks totaling more than $100 billion in the last seven years, the president drew a line in the sand Monday night and issued an executive order on Tuesday telling federal agencies to ignore earmarks not explicitly enacted into law.
Having earlier had his proposals for Social Security and immigration reform rejected by Congress, Bush simply challenged lawmakers to come up with plans of their own on these important topics. He also urged them to give U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan the support they need to sustain progress brought about by last year's troop surge.
Among his most concrete proposals was one to allow service members to transfer unused GI education benefits to their spouses or children. It hardly classifies as bold, but it is likely to be popular and passed into law.
Kansans took special interest in this year's State of the Union speech because of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' selection to provide the official Democratic response to the address. Although the formality of the occasion left Sebelius looking somewhat stiff and nervous, she delivered a well-crafted message that focused on working across party lines to get America back on track. She directly addressed Bush on several occasions asking him to work with the Democratic majority in Congress and telling him "it's time to get to work."
Her response projected a Midwestern practicality that accurately reflected Americans' frustration with a government dominated by political agendas. Her call for change seemed an apt prelude to her endorsement on Tuesday of Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Few presidents tackle major initiatives in the final year of their term. Bush did a good job Tuesday of outlining the key issues facing America, but he, and the rest of the nation, know that many of those issues still will be on the agenda when the next president arrives in the White House.