President Bush’s State of the Union address is a speech by committee -- and sometimes the committee gets too large.
The annual speech was the result of a months-long process of sifting through various ideas and deciding which ones to emphasize.
And now that it is in its final stages, with Bush to deliver the address on Tuesday night, Bush’s top aides have been trying to fend off officials from various agencies who want their favorite project mentioned.
“It’s pretty prized real estate, the State of the Union,” said a senior Bush aide. “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ’I just need one line, that’s all it takes.”’
When a line like this gets salted into the speech, Bush himself can spot it in the editing process.
“He can see it from a mile away when somebody has crowbarred in something that just sticks out. It’s like, ’Who wanted to put this in?”’ the official said.
The speech can last an hour or more and the speechwriters’ task is to keep it from sounding like a laundry list of the administration’s top proposals.
Thousands of decisions
Joe Lockhart, who as press secretary to President Bill Clinton got involved in the State of the Union, said the speech is probably the result of thousands of decisions made as to what should be in it and what should be left out.“I know it seems hard to believe with the length of some of Clinton’s speeches, but there was a lot left out. Short of instituting a half-time program, you have to leave stuff out,” Lockhart said.
The process for the Bush White House began in late October when an internal working group began talking about some of the broad policy strokes the president might want to mention.
The goal was to have a detailed outline for Bush to look at over the Christmas holiday. This year, the Bush team had to hustle because it is being delivered a week earlier than usual, and his aides also had to scramble on two other big speeches in recent weeks, immigration reform and the space program.
Much of the main points of the State of the Union speech --that the U.S. economy is on the rebound and the Iraq war was worth it -- has been the grist of Bush’s campaign stump speeches for weeks.
The White House challenge in the State of the Union is to raise Bush’s rhetoric to soaring heights, while maintaining the president’s plain-spoken Texas manner.
“It’s just a different type of speech,” said a senior official. “What you’re outlining are the goals of the country and how you hope to achieve those goals.”
Bush brought in a former top adviser, Karen Hughes, to help out, and she worked with the president’s main speechwriter, Michael Gerson, who has been sweating out the speech for weeks.
As is the norm, Bush will take the main points of his speech on the road. He travels on Wednesday and Thursday to Toledo, Ohio; Phoenix, Arizona; and Roswell, New Mexico.