focus was on the State of the Union. There were two halves to
the speech, separate but unequal. Bush spent the first half of
his speech vigorously defending his handling of Iraq, as he has
since November, and sending messages to the rulers and people
he said, is "now held hostage by a small clerical elite that
is isolating and repressing its people," and that regime
must not be allowed to gain nuclear weapons.
he hailed the people of Iran and said "our nation hopes one
day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."
Fine words -- if they're backed up by vigorous efforts to encourage
and aid those who seek freedom there.
defended vigorously the National Security Agency's surveillance
of communications between suspected al-Qaida terrorists abroad
and persons in the United States.
It is conventional
wisdom in much of the mainstream media and among many Democrats
that Iraq and the NSA program are politically damaging to Republicans.
Bush and his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, clearly disagree.
In a speech
to the Republican National Committee earlier last month, Rove
insisted that national security will be a central theme for Republicans
this year, and Bush's speech indicates that he will take the offensive
on that issue.
would like to take national security off the table. But rather
than stand and applaud Bush on the NSA surveillance, almost all
of them sat glumly in their chairs, hostages to the left-wing
blogosphere and billionaire contributors whose furious and often
obscene denunciations of Bush and the war on terrorism set the
tone for the whole party.
In the second
half of the speech, on domestic issues, Bush addressed issues
that threaten to demoralize his conservative base -- spending,
immigration and scandal -- and advanced proposals designed to
win bipartisan support -- an Advanced Energy Initiative to address
our supposed addiction to oil, science and math teacher training,
and portable health insurance coverage.
not likely to trigger the stonewalling opposition that Bush's
call for individual investment accounts in Social Security did
last year (although expanded health savings accounts will). They
give Bush some basis to claim he is seeking bipartisanship. "Our
differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger," he said
early in the speech -- and if Democrats respond in anger, as they
so often do, they can be portrayed as a party not ready to govern.
are complaining, with some justification, that Bush is taking
a detour from the conservative path. He is at least trying to
change the conversation. But the other Republicans who rose in
prominent positions last week have had careers that remind us
that that path is long, and that progress is being made despite
In the 1980s,
Ben Bernanke was an economics professor at Stanford and Princeton
-- now he runs the Fed. John Roberts and Samuel Alito in the 1980s
worked in obscure corners of the Reagan administration. Now they
appeared in the robes of justices of the Supreme Court, where
they join Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who had higher positions
in the Reagan government.
was an Ohio legislator in the 1980s and was first elected to the
House in 1990, the year of the House bank scandal, and has never
gotten a single earmark for his district. But as chairman of the
Education Committee, he proved himself an able manager of both
partisan bills and of bipartisan legislation, on education and
are part of a long march through institutions. When Boehner started
off in Ohio, Democrats had a stranglehold on state politics. Roberts
and Alito in law school encountered few conservative professors;
now, there is a substantial body of conservative jurisprudence.
When Bernanke was an undergraduate, Keynesianism was still regnant;
now, the economics professor has much greater respect for free
the course on national security and detour on domestic policy
may or may not produce the Republican victory in November his
strategists are so confident of. But conservative ideas now have
deep institutional roots.