Local opinion splits along party lines for Bush speech


Protesters voice their anti-Bush sentiments in downtown Gainesville Tuesday night.

DANNY GHITIS/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Throughout Gainesville on Tuesday night, Democrats and Republicans gathered around televisions to watch as President George W. Bush gave his fifth State of the Union address.
Predictably, whether they spent the evening cheering or jeering depended largely on their party affiliation.
"I like what he has to say," said Mildred Russell, former chairwoman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, about halfway through Bush's speech. "I think it's his overall vision, his attitude that we're not isolationist, we're not retreating, we're not withdrawing into our own borders just to take care of ourselves."
But some Democrats said much of the speech just echoed previous addresses given by the president and failed to convince those critical of the administration to trust future programs.
"He's selling his new initiatives and new programs but at the same time he's not talking about how past initiatives have not had the effects that were promised," said Susan Bottcher, a volunteer with the Democratic Party in Gainesville.
While Russell and Bottcher spent the evening watching the speech with friends in their homes, others took a more public approach. Supporters of the Democratic Party marched down W. University Avenue carrying pink signs calling for Bush's resignation Tuesday night before stopping to watch the event at Harry's Seafood Bar & Grill downtown.
The address, which touched on education, health care and the importance of continued vigilance in the war on terror, was important both as a glimpse of the administration's policy initiatives and as the first salvo in November's mid-term congressional elections, said Kenneth Wald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.
U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, said after the speech that Bush made many strong proposals, particularly in the areas of national defense and education. He said Bush properly framed the war in Iraq for the 2006 campaigns by arguing that his opponents could disagree with his handling of the war but that the country needed to stay the course.
However, he said he was concerned about several aspects of the speech, including the impact of new programs on a mounting budget deficit.
"Before you add a lot of new programs you have to balance the budget and work your way out of deficit financing," Stearns said.
The administration has faced falling poll numbers and a series of policy setbacks in the past year, making this speech particularly important, Wald said. These setbacks stretch back to last year's State of the Union address, when Bush proposed a sweeping overhaul and partial privatization of the Social Security system, which failed to gain traction among legislators.
"Bush had a horrible year. Almost everything went wrong, almost every policy initiative failed," Wald said before the speech. "Bush needs to seize the agenda and make it clear that he's still the president and still the major force in public life."
David Bruderly of Gainesville, who has announced as Stearns' opponent in November, said he was happy to hear many Democratic programs mirrored in Bush's proposals but said he was concerned about statements in the address that he said unfairly characterized critics of the war in Iraq.
"I resent him continuing to try to convince the American people that he did the right thing in Iraq," Bruderly said
This year's address focused on a number of conciliatory policies such as increasing the number of math and science teachers, something that some said could be a benefit for Democrats in the congressional elections.
"It allows the Democrats to come out and say we have been right," Bottcher said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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