President Bush made history Tuesday evening without breaking the usual mold for the State of the Union address.
Since people around the globe are so preoccupied with the Persian Gulf, Bush had been expected to turn the annual message into a State of the World address by devoting his remarks mostly to the war and other international concerns.Instead, the conflict with Iraq took up less than half of the first wartime State of the Union address since the Vietnam conflict 16 years ago.
Yes, the address was aimed not just at Americans but at a much wider audience. Yes, its most dramatic and stirring parts were those dealing with the gulf war. Still, its emphasis on domestic matters is important because it indicates that America's priorities have been shifted by the gulf without being warped by that international tragedy.
Conscious of his role as a wartime president, Bush wisely steered clear of any hint of partisan rhetoric that could undermine the widespread support he is now receiving as commander in chief.
Repeatedly striking a patriotic theme as he linked the goals of the Persian Gulf war with the domestic challenges remaining in the United States, Bush stuck to broad themes, unveiled no major new government initiatives and delved into few details.
More details will be forthcoming when the administration's new budget is released next Monday. Even then, the sour national economy and the mushrooming deficit can be expected to make any new programs relatively small and inexpensive.
Throughout the entire State of the Union address, the president's tone was one of resolute confidence. Though there are reasons for fearing that the end of the recession is not in sight and the war in the gulf could be protracted, long-term optimism still seems warranted.
After all, as Bush noted Tuesday evening, the nation is working its way through the current recession without such previous handicaps as double-digit inflation and low export rates.
Besides, the world has seldom been as united as it is now in opposing Iraqi aggression. Who really wants to live in a world in which the strong do not try to protect the weak? Moreover, America has weathered worse wars and economic slumps than the present ones - then gone on to higher and higher plateaus of peace, freedom and prosperity.
Like Bush, the rest of the country can be confident in America's ability to shape a better future. It can be confident because of this nation's proven track record for resourcefulness and dogged determination. Call that just a political pep talk if you will. But it is a pep talk based on some simple realities about the basic character of this nation and its people, about what makes them work and win. Bravo, Mr. President!