CNN had to get a jab in the lead of its story, before analyzing what the president actually said.

Most striking to me about President Bush’s final State
of the Union address Monday night was how unsurprising it was. Before
the speech, White House officials set low expectations — and Bush met
them.

That’s cynical. And once this writer gets it out of his system, he gets honest with himself and the reader.

In fairness to the president, his hands are fairly well
tied as he begins his final year in office. With a Democratic Congress,
he’s unlikely to get to very much of his agenda enacted. And truth be
told, if he had walked up to the rostrum and outlined 10 complicated
new initiatives, I’d be writing today about how unrealistic Bush was
being.

A moment of honesty.

Now here’s a more realistic review.

The bottom line is that the bully pulpit certainly seems
smaller for Bush, but you have to give him this: On the two issues that
are likely to define how his final year in office goes — the economy
and Iraq — he is still setting the agenda.

On the economy, the president tried to make the case he can work
with Democrats to prevent America from sliding into recession. “In this
election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our
responsibilities and are determined to meet them,” he said…

On Iraq, Bush had some good news to tout, especially compared to
last year’s State of the Union. Then he was defending a controversial
surge initiative and Democrats were lining up to schedule votes to
change his policy. Since then, Democrats have failed on vote after
vote, while security on the ground in Iraq has gotten better and about
20,000 U.S. troops have started heading home.

And then some messages about the state of the union came from places and people other than the president at the podium. 

Leading up to the address, I noticed the reactions of different
members of Congress to the president’s entry into the chamber of the
House of Representatives, where it took place. Specifically, all stood
and applauded. Sen. Barack Obama applauded. Sen Hillary Clinton stood
with her hands at her side and a dour expression on her face. Earlier
in the day, she told her supporters at a campaign rally that ‘the
heaven’s are smiling on us today, because tonight, George Bush will
deliver his last state of the union address.’

These words and gestures are beneath the dignity of the office. If
anyone should know that, it’s the former First Lady. No matter what a
member’s party affiliation or regard for George Bush, he is the
president of the United States. The office holds a certain – and
historic – nobility and dignity. A senator unwilling to behave with
manners and decorum at so stately an event seems unfit to
presume she should one day lead it.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....