The president's State of the Union speech is never only about the state of the union, which is always strong. It's about atmospherics -- who's sitting with the first lady in the gallery, how many times the president's party rises to applaud and the opposition remains seated.
Bill Clinton's long, programmatic speeches got panned as laundry lists, yet Clinton always got a bump in the polls. President George W. Bush's short, thematic ones have risen on a few memorable phrases -- axis of evil, addiction to oil -- yet have come with few specifics or follow-through.
To divert Americans from the only thing on their minds -- new troops being sent to a disastrous foreign adventure -- the White House promised that Bush last night would put forth an array of domestic initiatives aimed at fixing problems from Medicare and Medicaid to immigration reform and education.
Compared with the few shirts and socks on Bush's short laundry lists of the past, this State of the Union speech was a veritable wardrobe of ideas, even if some were old and frayed. He wants more money for his ``No Child Left Behind'' education initiative, his best hope of a legacy.
He wants to end ``junk lawsuits'' (that got the standing ovation of the night from Republicans) and an expansion of health savings accounts, a favorite of upper-income households looking for a tax break.
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