President George W. Bush touted the capture of Saddam Hussein and a resurgent U.S. economy in his annual State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday night.
About three miles away in the Hippodrome, more than 100 students at a pizza party sponsored by the College Republicans had mixed reactions to the hour-long speech.
After a short overview of his administration’s accomplishments in the last year, Bush reminded Americans of the progress U.S. troops have made in rebuilding Iraq, restated the goals of the occupation and vowed that the U.S. would capture or kill the world’s most dangerous terrorists.
But he said the U.S. does not seek to interfere in other nations’ affairs.
“America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs,” he said. “We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace – a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”
Some students said Bush has failed to make a connection between the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.
“I think (Bush) tried to mix the Iraq and terror issues when, in my eyes, they’re not connected at all,” said sophomore Jake Young, who described himself as “so anti-Bush that I still don’t think he was ever even elected.”
Robert Blancato, a GW political science professor, said Bush neglected to talk about pressing domestic issues.
“I thought there was too much emphasis on foreign affairs,” Blancato said Wednesday. “Some was extraneous when he should really have given more an emphasis on domestic issues.”
While most of his speech focused on foreign issues, Bush also talked about immigration reform and the economy, which grew 8.4 percent in the last fiscal quarter.
“America’s growing economy is also a changing economy,” he said.
Bush expressed his support for fair trade, job training programs, permanent tax cuts and the federal budget, which he said will increase by 4 percent this year.
As in the Capitol, student response to Bush’s words hinged on party affiliation. Republicans broke into enthusiastic cheers many times during the speech, while Democrats mocked and hooted at several of Bush’s statements.
“President Bush did another excellent job with his address. He spoke with clarity and charisma and had many bright ideas,” said freshman Christopher Sheeron, a member of the CRs. “I’m anticipating a strong 2004, which will hopefully lead to (Bush’s) reelection.”
“It was important that he showed our economy isn’t in as bad shape as some people think … that it is in a state of transition, and new jobs are being created,” freshman Justin Shannon said.
Junior Mike Epstein, who said he was encouraged by the recent capture of Saddam Hussein, was also supportive of Bush.
“That definitely improved my opinion about him. We didn’t get bin Laden, but getting Saddam gave us hope,” he said.
Other student said Bush neglected the promises he made in his last address.
“I didn’t think it was as strong as last year’s,” freshman Ben Thornwill said.
“The whole time, I was wondering what happened to some of his promises from last year – the AIDS program, for example,” added Thornwill, referring to Bush’s pledge to donate $15 billion over the next five years to “third world” countries afflicted by AIDS.
Bush also suggested that the United States reform its immigration policy, a touchy subject with his conservative base, who believes that illegal migrants are hurting the economy.
“This reform will be good for our economy, because employers
would find needed workers in an honest and orderly system,” Bush said.
But he cautioned against calling the proposed reform “amnesty” and said that under the new law, illegal immigrants would not be allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely.
“I oppose amnesty because it would encourage further illegal
immigration and unfairly reward those who break our laws,” he said.
The address came at a pivotal point in U.S. politics, as Democrats gear up for next week’s New Hampshire Primary, the first of a series of contests that will determine Bush’s challenger in November.
While Bush did not talk about the upcoming election, he mentioned politicians and pundits who have criticized the war on terror. Several Democratic candidates have lambasted Bush for invading Iraq, which they said has hurt the war on terror.
“I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all,” Bush said Tuesday night. “They view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments.”