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Bush outlines second-term goals

Blitz to sell politically risky remake of Social Security blasts off today.

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A presidential public relation blitz begins today as George W. Bush flies around the country to sell voters on politically risky changes to the Social Security system that were at the heart of his State of the Union address.

The speech, to a packed House chamber and a national television audience, was Mr. Bush's fourth - and the first to focus most heavily on domestic themes.

Key themes: Social Security and Iraq

The president's call for Congress to take political risks "to strengthen and save Social Security" was arguably the night's most politically charged domestic topic. Mr. Bush urged creation of what he calls personal - and Democrats call private - investment accounts. Americans now age 55 and over would not be affected by the President's plan, a move clearly aimed at calming fears of politically potent baby boomers.

On foreign policy, the president hailed the recent elections in Iraq as opening "a new phase in our work in that country." He did not offer a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq as some Democrats have urged. But Bush did note that,"we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces - forces with skilled officers, and an effective command structure."

The most memorable moment of the evening came when the president spoke about Janet and Bill Norwood, whose son, Byron, was a US Marine killed in the assault on Fallujah. Amid thunderous and prolonged applause for the Norwoods, Safia Taleb al-Suhail, an Iraqi woman whose father was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's intelligence service, hugged Mrs. Norwood. The Iraqi woman was first lady Laura Bush's guest in the House gallery.

The president also pledged to push for peace in the Middle East. "The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach, and America will help them achieve that goal," the president said. He singled out Syria and Iran as regimes that promote terrorism.


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