So how did President Bush do in his State of the Union Address? At the risk of being institutionalized against my will, I make the following assessment of this speech: George W. Bush is arguably a better public speaker now than were Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and George H. W. Bush in their prime. Such a statement just a few short years ago would have been laughable, but not today.
Whether you love or loath George W. Bush, you can not deny that he has learned how to read a teleprompter. His smirks are gone. The squinting has disappeared. The nervous rushing through a speech is a distant memory. Tics are nonexistent. The first half of his speech was completely devoid of any stumbles whatsoever. (Granted, he did stumble over ten words in the second half, but none were disruptive.) Indeed, Bush was devoid of Bushisms.
Bush exuded confidence through his steady eye contact and his lack of head jerking. He conveyed emotion without seeming exasperated. For once, he seemed to have spent more hours in a week rehearsing his speech than at the gym.
Stylistically, Bush seemed sincere and was devoid of petty jabs at long-forgotten adversaries like Kerry and Gore. Unless you were a die-hard Bush hater, he didn't seem smug or arrogant. Instead, his tone was conversational and relaxed.
Of course, Bush isn't perfect on technical grounds yet. He got thirsty and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth too often (in search of moisture?) during the second half of the speech. And it probably goes without saying that Bush still can't pronounce the word "nuclear" — though, in his defense, he is not a nuclear engineer (like some previous presidential mispronouncers of the word).
So how did Bush's speech rate on political grounds? Since this president has the lowest poll ratings of anyone since Nixon at this state of a second term, Bush was in serious need of receiving a boost. Bush sounded the most nonpartisan of his presidency. I predict he will receive a short-term boost in his polls from many independent voters who liked his stance on HIV AIDS or on developing non-traditional forms of energy.
But conservatives must have been disappointed by the least-red-meat-filled speech of the Bush presidency. The hard-fought Alito Supreme Court victory barely got mentioned (at three minutes to 10:00 P.M.). Bush requesting Congress to give him the line-item veto was as pathetically amusing as watching Linus hoping for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. Did Bush think this fantasy gimmick would fool conservatives into thinking he wasn't the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the world?
Liberals are far beyond being impressed by Bush's style. In their world, Bush is forever the inarticulate, bumbling, bungling idiot-son-in-chief. There is only one thing that would have impressed them. If Bush had admitted categorical failure in his plan to invade Iraq and then called for the complete elimination of troops from that country. Nothing else would impress liberals. So they were not going to be impressed tonight.
Bush is an inspiration for all late-bloomers in life, but his new rhetorical skills may have come too late to alter his second-term political landscape.
T. J. Walker is a presentation coach and media trainer to prime ministers, premiers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and CEOs. He is the host of a daily TV show "Speaking with TJ Walker" seen at www.speakcast.com.
By T. J. Walker
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online