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Bush's bid to stay relevant

The atmosphere after the State of the Union address this week brought back to mind 1995, when President Clinton, after sharp Democratic reverses in the midterm election, told a news conference that, under the Constitution, he was still "relevant."

It also recalls 2004, when a newly reelected President Bush told a news conference that he had earned "political capital" in the campaign – capital that he intended to spend on issues dear to him, such as Social Security, tax reform, and the war against terror.

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That capital has run out, and Tuesday night's State of the Union speech, professionally crafted though it was, reflected the bruising rejection of the president in most of the opinion polls and, more significant, in the November election. There are growing demands that the American military extricate itself from a conflict that increasingly looks like a Sunni-Shiite civil war.

The usual practice for a president in trouble on the domestic front is to shift his emphasis to the international scene. In this case, the speech was almost evenly divided between domestic initiatives such as healthcare, Social Security, energy, and immigration, and the foreign scene, meaning Iraq – the inescapable subject.

But there was no sign that he changed many minds. Mr. Bush talked of trying to avert a "nightmare scenario," of facing a defeat that would be "grievous and far-reaching," and he appealed to Congress and the public to give him one last opportunity to win, with his new strategy featuring a temporary military reinforcement.

But that is falling on deaf ears. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acting by design immediately after the State of the Union, approved by a vote of 12-9 a resolution saying that an escalation of American troop strength in Iraq is against the national interest.

The resolution is what's called "nonbinding" – that is, not obliging the administration to do anything. But it makes Bush look like a lame duck indeed.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.


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