WASHINGTON (Reuters)–US President George W. Bush made a defiant defense of the Iraq war on Tuesday and urged Americans to stick with his leadership in an election-year State of the Union address that offered a point-by-point rebuttal of his Democratic challengers.
"We have not come all this way–through tragedy–and trial–and war–only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Bush said in the chamber of the House of Representatives before a joint session of Congress and millions watching on television.
Seeking to capture the momentum going into a hotly contested presidential contest–Bush declared the state of the union "confident and strong" and set out an election year–stay-the-course agenda sprinkled with modest domestic proposals and warnings that the memory of Sept. 11–2001–requires a tough approach to terrorism.
A new poll by Zogby International said Bush looked vulnerable. It gave him a 49 percent job approval rating–dropping from 53 percent in mid-December.
Some of his most impassioned language was in defending the Iraq war against Democrats who say he invaded without UN support based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction–which have never been found.
Following the president’s address–Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry said–"There’s just two different worlds here–the world the president talks about and the world that Americans are living and I think that’s what we’re going to see unfold over the course of these next months."
"The State of the Union may look rosy from the White House balcony or the suites of George Bush’s wealthiest donors. But hard-working Americans will see through this president’s effort to wrap his radical agenda with a compassionate ribbon," said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean–who hoped to bounce back from his third place finish in the Iowa caucuses in next week’s New Hampshire primary.
North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards–whose campaign got a boost in Iowa where he finished second–sounded a similar note when he delivered a speech called "The State of the Two Americas."
"When the president says–’The state of our union is strong,’ you need to ask ‘which union Mr. President?"’ Edwards said. "Because the state of George Bush’s union–the America of the Washington lobbyists–special interests and his CEO friends–is doing just fine. They get what they want–whenever they want."
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark–who bypassed Iowa to focus on New Hampshire–said–"The sad fact is that today–two years after he coined the term–we’ve got a new axis of evil…of fiscal policies that threaten our future–foreign policies that threaten our security–and domestic policies that put families dead last."