Today's Papers

A Modest Proposal

All the papers lead with the State of the Union address, where President Bush urged bipartisan support for what the New York Times calls “a modest agenda” on domestic issues and asked lawmakers to give his new plan for Iraq a chance to work. USA Todaysays Bush spent “less than half” of his speech talking about domestic-policy issues, mainly education, energy, tax breaks (or increases) for health insurance, and immigration. All the papers note the changes on Capitol Hill were evident last night from the beginning of the address when the president congratulated the Democrats and noted he had the “high privilege and distinct honor … as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: ’Madam Speaker.’ ”

The Washington Postnotes that as opposed to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom admitted mistakes when they faced a Congress where their parties had lost in midterm elections, Bush “appeared unchastened last night and took no responsibility for his party’s defeat or errors in office.” But the politically weak president wasn’t as ambitious as he has seemed in the past during this annual event. As the NYT notes, the address “was limited in ambition and political punch at home.” The Los Angeles Timessums up the theme of the speech nicely with its headline: “Bush Seeks Compromise, Except on Iraq Strategy.”

Speaking of Iraq, Bush recognized the changing nature of the conflict and declared, “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in.” The NYT notices the president’s justification for being involved in Iraq has changed quite a bit since he gave the address four years ago. Now it focuses on trying to prevent the violence in Iraq from spreading to other countries in the Middle East. Almost recognizing this change, Bush insisted to lawmakers that “whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” (Slate’s Fred Kaplan says Bush’s statements about the war “were at best puzzling, and at worst, maddening.”)

Today, the Senate foreign relations committee is expected to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

There wasn’t much new in the address. Everybody notes the biggest piece of news to come out of last night—and, remember, this is all relative—was a call to decrease gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent by 2017. He proposed to do this by increasing fuel efficiency and promoting alternative fuels. The Post’s Steven Mufson does a good job of putting the energy proposals into context and notes the 20 percent reduction Bush mentioned is of “projected annual gasoline usage, not off today’s levels.” Although Bush talked about dealing with “the serious challenge of global climate change,” he focused on transportation when it’s, in fact, “other parts of the economy” that are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gases.

Even though the White House tried to talk up the energy part of the address, the Wall Street Journal points out that “achieving its goals rests on the uncertainty of technological breakthroughs and the administration is promising relatively little money to subsidize” the shift. The LAT notices “contradictions” in Bush’s energy plans and quotes Rep. Henry Waxman, who said the proposals were “the latest in a string of disappointments from this administration.”

Bush also urged Congress to approve a change in immigration law, which the WSJ points out, has a greater chance of passing now that the Republicans are no longer in control of Congress. Despite this greater possibility, the LAT notes that there were no details or specifics in the president’s proposals, which “did little to advance the debate, leaving it to Congress to work out a solution.”

In a blunt piece of analysis, McClatchy says Bush’s “proposals were mostly familiar, and on energy, notably small-bore.”

The papers describe the Democratic response given by Sen. Jim Webb as “blunt” and “forceful.”  The freshman senator talked about his family’s history of military service and accused Bush of leading “a mismanaged war.” He also criticized Bush’s economic policies and talked of the growing gap between the rich and poor in the country and said the middle class “is losing its place at the table.” Webb emphasized Democrats are willing to work with the president as he leads the way to change economic and foreign policy. And he warned that if Bush fails to take the initiative “we will be showing him the way.”

The LAT, NYT, and WP all front the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and they all focus on how the defense tried to portray him as a “scapegoat.” Libby’s lawyers contend the White House wanted to blame Libby in order to save Karl Rove, who was viewed as essential for the Republicans. Although everyone agrees this will likely be an important point in the trial, the NYT notes up high that the defense did not make clear what kind of connection exists between these allegations and the charges Libby faces of making false statements to the FBI and perjuring himself before a grand jury. Slate’s John Dickerson notes that the trial “has opened a window into an administration that in 2003 was deeply at war with itself.”

All the papers note five security contractors were killed yesterday in Iraq, four of whom were aboard a helicopter that crashed. It is still unclear whether the helicopter was shot down, but it is the second time in less than a week that Americans died as a result of a helicopter crash. According to the Post, the military announced the death of three U.S. servicemembers yesterday.

Also yesterday, the nominee to be the next top commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, told senators he is confident the new military plan can work and emphasized the “situation in Iraq is dire” although he made sure to say it is “not hopeless.”

The NYT fronts a dispatch out of Baghdad that amounts to a progress report on the Iraq parliament, where lawmakers are still finding it difficult to convene because, most of the time, there is no quorum. The paper reports that “nearly every session since November has been adjourned” because most lawmakers don’t show up for work even though they receive salaries and benefits worth about $120,000, which seems like a ridiculously large sum for Iraq.

Everyone notes that Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon surprisingly and quickly took control of major roads across Lebanon to enforce a strike that aims to topple the government. The Post calls it “the most dramatic escalation yet in the two-month campaign led by Hezbollah.”

The Post fronts the death of E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA employee who organized the Watergate break-in. Other highlights of his career include involvement in the overthrow of the Guatemalan president in 1954 and being the planning director for the group of Cuban exiles who tried to overthrow Fidel Castro via the Bay of Pigs.

The NYT notes the death of Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish writer. Kapuscinski spent his career reporting on conflicts in the developing world. His intense narrative style that gave readers a unique view of current events in some of the most remote parts of the world garnered him a wide international audience. He was 74.

The British are coming! Everyone notes that the nominations for the Oscars were announced yesterday. Dreamgirls led the pack with eight nominations, but not for best picture, which is very rare (according to the NYT, “it is the first film in many decades” to be in this situation). Babelgot seven nominations. In a Page One article, the LAT notices there will be a big foreign angle to this year’s award show because several of the pictures nominated take place overseas. Also, many of those nominated are not from the United States. Most notably, four out of five of the women up for the best actress Oscar are not American.