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President Bush, say what you will about him, sure knows how to lay on the charm. In his affected folksy style, the President opened his State of the Union message Tuesday night with a seemingly genuine offer of congratulations to Nancy Pelosi for becoming the first female Speaker of the House. It was his only real acknowledgement in the speech of the sea change in American politics after the November 2006 mid-term elections. Though clothed in the rhetoric of bipartisanship and change, the substance of the President’s proposals was more of the same failed policy rejected by the American people in 2006.

Take, for example, the President’s healthcare proposal. The plan does little to help the 47 million Americans without healthcare because they don’t make enough money to qualify for it’s tax deduction. Additionally, by eliminating the current tax incentive for companies that offer health insurance to their workers, the plan threatens to undermine the employer-based healthcare system while failing to offer a real alternative for American families. The President’s new plan is just another in a long sting of attempts by his administration to shirk responsibility for critical health care issues through ill-conceived changes to the tax code.

Healthcare wasn’t the only policy arena in which the President made the old new again. Perhaps influenced by Al Gore’s two Oscar nominations for “An Inconvenient Truth,” the President seemed to change his tune on energy and the environment. For the first time, he acknowledged that global warming was a man-made problem, something many Republicans denied up until a few months ago. While the President’s grudging assent to what has long been the scientific consensus was welcome news, it’s hard to take his rhetoric seriously. Recall that in last year’s speech, the President declared that America was “addicted to oil” and pledged to reduce consumption. Only a week later, however, the President cut funding for alternative energy research. Moreover, the President’s failure to call for mandatory, enforceable caps on carbon emissions and his continued emphasis on domestic oil production undercut any claim that he is actually committed to substantive change on energy and environmental policy.

It was on the issue of Iraq, however, where the President displayed the most egregious example of his “stay the course” mentality and where Georgetown students should be most disappointed. Fortunate as we are to be studying at a top university, we owe it to our peers fighting overseas to demand a sensible strategy in Iraq. Yet all we got from the President was more of the same failed policies that have put too many of them in harm’s way.

Ignoring military and civilian experts, members of Congress from both parties, and the overwhelming majority of the American people (79 percent in one poll), the President reiterated his plan to escalate the war in Iraq by “surging” 21,500 more American troops into the middle of what is now widely regarded as an Iraqi civil war. The President justified his decision by saying that Congress and the American people “did not vote for failure” in Iraq. Yet he seemed oblivious to the fact that there can be no greater failure in Iraq that an indefinite commitment to prop up an incompetent government that pushes American military forces to the breaking point and continues to serve as a key recruiting tool for radical Islamists.

Though the President’s speech made it clear that he intends to operate as if little has changed here in Washington, the rest of the country knows what we Democrats know: The American people didn’t vote for failure when they elected Democrats to majorities in the House and Senate – they voted against the failed policies of President Bush and the Republicans. That’s why Democrats have been pursuing an aggressive and forward looking agenda in their first weeks in power. Democrats in Congress voted to raise the minimum wage and fully implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. They have taken on the challenge of energy by rolling back Bush’s massive tax cuts for big oil and proposing new funding for alternative fuels. They have proven their commitment to education by voting to dramatically reduce interest rates on student loans, something which will help a great many Georgetown students. On Iraq, Democrats stand united in our opposition to escalation and we are calling for a phased redeployment in the next six months to force Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security. Simultaneously, we want an aggressive and genuine diplomatic effort in the region and the wider world to mobilize Iraq’s neighbors and the international community to help reduce sectarian strife and continue reconstruction.

So even if President Bush can’t seem to acknowledge “staying the course” just won’t work, we Democrats will continue to work for a new direction for our country. And as for Madam Speaker, well, let’s just say, it was about time.

*Note: A version of this article was published in the 1/26/07 Hoya