Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, what will stand out in President George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address? Will it be Social Security where the president didn't just touch on the third rail of American politics, he reached out and grabbed hold of it.

Tim Russert:  And he did so by putting on the tables ideas that have been suggested for years. He used Democratic names as authors of those ideas, Bill Clinton, Pat Moynihan, John Breaux, Tim Penny.  He'll campaign around the country for his idea of Social Security reform.

NBC News has obtained “Saving Social Security”, a playbook that the Republicans have actually put out to their members with sample speeches -- how to sell the president's program.

But I think the speech will be remembered more for the passion and emotion of the words about Iraq. This president has bet his presidency on the outcome in Iraq. He is staying the course, much of it is out of his control, but he's emboldened by the election results last Sunday. I think it will be a cloud that hovers over the Bush presidency. It could well affect his prospects for Social Security, as will, Iraq well go the second term.

MSNBC:  What about the tone. We heard the Democrats shouting down a specific proposal -- probably for the first time in modern memory.

Russert:  It was like question time over in Great Britain, when I heard them say, “No, no,” as to whether or not Social Security would go bankrupt. The Democrats have lost two hotly contested presidential elections, and their nerves are frayed. You can feel it in this town, and I think it was reflected on the floor. I think the debate of Social Security will be hot, heated and contentious.

MSNBC:  Do you think the regular people out there who have not followed this week by week will be taken with the president's strong words – “Social Security” and “headed for bankruptcy”?

Russert:  Well, they will certainly have heard that, and they also heard the “no's” being yelled by the Democrats, so they will want to find out a whole lot more.

It was kind of an interesting two speeches, the passion and emotion of Iraq, and the gripping scene of the mother who lost her son, embracing the Iraqi voter. That will make a mark in the minds of the Americans and the world.

There's not much Americans can do about Iraq. Those events will unfold and have influence upon the president's second term, much out of his control. But on Social Security, the suspicions between the two parties are so deep.  Democrats believe Social Security is their program. Franklin Roosevelt's program, that defined their party for a whole generation, and now George Bush wants to take it away, with a legacy issue called “private accounts” or “personal accounts” And they are going to fight. All 45 Democratic senators have said they oppose it.

The president is going to go Thursday to Republican states, so-called “red states”, that have Democratic senators. And the Democrats have already recorded television ads and radio ads and have demonstrators going against the president's idea. This is going to be a huge robust debate about an issue central to each of these parties -- who owns Social Security?

MSNBC:  When it came to the issue of abortion rights -- possibly the most divisive issue domestically in the country - it seems the president played it pretty light Wednesday night.

Russert:  He talks about the culture of life. He has said that he never believed that you can change people's attitudes on abortion, quickly or overnight, and it would be very difficult to change the laws without changing attitudes. I don't think the president dealt with the whole notion of same-sex marriage. He has to hit those litmus test issues for his Republican conservative base, but clearly, did not express the kind of activist agenda towards them that he did for Social Security and other things.

MSNBC:  What did you think about Mr. Bush’s mention of Iran in his speech?

Russert:  I think that the president was very forceful in terms of talking about diplomacy, to try to bring about an end to the program, and then said to the next generation of Iranians, “we will stand by you” -- suggesting that if we can delay the development of that program, perhaps there can be ultimately an evolution or revolution in the Iran, buying time, if you will.

Vice President Dick Cheney said, on the Imus program a couple of weeks ago, however, that we do not know if the Israelis will be endlessly patient. Kind of being good cop, bad cop, and that is something we really have to watch for very carefully.

MSNBC:  President Bush is approaching what has really destroyed the political careers of others -- a second term in office. Looking at some of the approval ratings as other presidents have entered their second terms:  Eisenhower - 73% approval, Reagan - 64, Clinton – 60 and Nixon - 51. Wednesday night George W. Bush, who, at 50%, has the lowest approval rating among modern presidents – but he is known to feel very strongly that he will break the second term curse among modern presidents. What does he have to do?

Russert:  His view is the same as after the first election in 2000, where he won by a handful of votes -- a win is a win. Spend your capital. Define your agenda or others will do it for you. Full speed ahead on Iraq, Social Security, tax cuts.

It is up to the Democrats not only to oppose him, but to offer an alternative.

If the president can keep it on those issues, he'll have a good second term.  If it goes off into Iraq only, and things do not improve there, then it could be a difficult time for him.


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