“In all we do, we must trust in the ability of free people to make wise decisions, and empower them to improve their lives and their futures.”  This is a neat summation of what could be a powerful political philosophy for the 21st century – an approach that marries the empowerment of individuals with more decision making power at home and the spreading of democracy around the world.  [In full disclosure: it was the subject of a book I wrote eight years ago called “The Next Deal.”]  It’s no accident that Bush is turning to this theme.  In the last few days of the 2000 campaign, Bush went to Appleton, Wisconsin and said he “trusts the good people of this America to make decisions for their children and their families.”  He said Al Gore “believes Washington ought to decide on behalf of the people in this country.”  In his second inaugural, one of the most powerful moments of his presidency, he spoke movingly of the power of democracy to bring liberty.

But while Bush may want to return to these themes, the past eight years make it impossible in any real way.  A president who “trusts the people” would not take significant actions to limit Americans rights when up against corporations.  A president who wants to “empower them to improve their lives and their futures” would have done more than take a few puny steps to give people good choices when it comes to their health care, their children’s public schools, or their retirements – and would not be limiting the powers of states and local communities when it comes to clear air or other issues of federalism.  And a president who believes “in the power of individuals to determine their destiny and shape the course of history” would stand against – and not with – Pervez Musharraf and other dictators.  

An eighth year State of the Union is the time to look back, not the time to start from scratch and pretend the past two terms didn’t happen.

--Andrei Cherny