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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February, 2005, 11:24 GMT
US media foresee 'social battle'
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News, Washington

When asked what the headline from President George Bush's State of the Union address would be, NBC commentator and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough said: "Social security reform creates ideological divide."

President Bush during the State of the Union address
Pundits say Bush was "encouraged" by the success of the Iraqi polls

There would be a quick mention of a touching moment when the mother of a marine killed in the assault on Falluja embraced an Iraqi human rights activist, he said.

But the looming battle over social security, the public pension scheme in the US, would get top billing, he added.

"Conflict moves papers," he said.

Indeed, the US media moved quickly from the speech itself to the anticipated pitched battle between President Bush and his Democratic opponents in Congress.

'Battle royale'

Todd S Purdum of the New York Times wrote: "Much as he remade a broad swath of American foreign policy in his first term, President Bush has now vowed to reshape a towering pillar of domestic policy, social security, in his second."

Mr Bush's reform plan is a bold goal, he adds, but "one that faces fierce opposition from Democrats and uncertain support from Republicans, and the outcome could weigh heavily in determining the success of his presidency and his place in history."

It was surprising to hear the president of the United States send a strong message to Egypt and a strong message to Saudi Arabia
Former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke

FoxNews' Brit Hume predicted the clash between Mr Bush and his Democratic opponents would be a "battle royale".

And he commented on how unusual it was for Democrats to boo during the State of the Union address, as they did when Mr Bush said social security would be exhausted and bankrupt by 2042.

Mr Hume said: "Bill Clinton got boos from newly Republican-controlled Congress when he made a very long speech in 1995. But I can't recall anything like that since."

NBC White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell talked of how Mr Bush is set to embark on a five-state campaign to promote his plan directly to the American people.

All five states are considered red states, ie largely Republican, but they all have Democratic Senators who are up for re-election.

All of the 45 Democratic Senators say they will oppose the reform plan, but Mr Bush hopes to apply pressure on them by appealing to their constituents at these rallies, Ms O'Donnell said.

Iraq election boost

CNN's Wolf Blitzer said as Mr Bush entered the House of Representatives to deliver his speech that he was "clearly encouraged by the elections in Iraq last week".

He bet on the Iraqi people, and he won
Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds

But CNN White House correspondent John King said Iraq was still a cloud over Mr Bush's second term.

"The war in Iraq has cost much more in money and in life than the administration believed at the outset," Mr King said.

The elections could prove to be a psychological turning point, but Mr Bush needs to win back the faith of the American people or else his domestic agenda will suffer, he added.

While Mr Bush reprised several themes from his inaugural address, several commentators, including former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, were surprised by Mr Bush's messages to traditional Middle Eastern allies of the US.

"It was surprising to hear the president of the United States send a strong message to Egypt and a strong message to Saudi Arabia," she said.

Blogging the State of the Union

CNN also checked in with bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox, better known as Wonkette.

Mr Sullivan said that many bloggers "live-blogged" the speech, making snarky, partisan comments every few sentences.

"A lot of right-wing blogs thought the speech excellent, and the left-wing blogs thought it was dreary," he said.

Wonkette wrote: "The state of our children's union will be traditional, that's what. None of that gayness."

Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit wrote that Mr Bush seemed much more comfortable than at his inaugural address two weeks ago.

He speculated that it was because of the success of the Iraqi elections.

"I think we're just figuring out just how much the administration's plans turned on that," he wrote, adding: "He bet on the Iraqi people, and he won."


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