Katie: What Should He Say?

(AP / CBS)
Ahead of tonight's State of the Union address, I thought it would be interesting to talk to a couple of people who have actually written these speeches in the past. So we spoke with two legendary former White House speechwriters—one a Democrat, the other a Republican—and asked their advice for President Bush. Here's what they told us:

Ted Sorenson, who wrote for President Kennedy, said that what President Bush "needs most to accomplish is the restoration of his credibility. He lost his credibility with words—but he's not going to regain it with words alone. He needs to make a complete change of course in Iraq, and make a candid admission of failure there. He would be a big-time beneficiary—as would his legacy—were he to do that and restore his credibility."

On the other side of the aisle, Michael Gerson, who wrote for the current President Bush, said "this year's State of the Union offers some drama for the President—the drama of a Democratic Congress, the drama of an unpopular "surge" in Iraq. But for a good speechwriter, a little drama isn't a bad thing. It creates an opportunity to be conspicuously gracious to the new leadership of Congress, which Americans would appreciate; an opportunity to assert domestic leadership on a few ripe, well-chosen issues like energy, immigration and health care; an opportunity to ask Americans directly for patience in Iraq, so a new policy has time to work. The President doesn't have the best cards, but they can be skillfully played."

Tonight will be the eighth time President Bush has addressed a joint session of Congress--and his sixth State of the Union address. It is a cliché in my business to say that a political address is "the most important speech of (insert candidate or president's name here) life." But with his popularity at its lowest point ever—and with his plan for Iraq under fire from politicians in both parties—it is not a stretch to say that this speech matters. A lot.