Throughout his career, George W. Bush has always seemed energized and at the top of his game when he faced skepticism and low expectations -- in his memorably feisty second debate with Kerry, for instance, after his lame, shrugging performance in their first exchange. In 2000, after John McCain won a landslide victory in New Hampshire, Bush came roaring back with renewed fire and passion (and some say viciousness) that turned his flailing campaign around.
At this point he knows that his heavily-hyped Iraq speech proved itself a dud that collapsed with a sickening thud. After the big build-up and long anticipation, the president, regardless of the evaluation of the substance of his remarks, delivered a listless TV performance with an uncharacteristic air of uncertainty, even desperation.
He needs to regain some of his Texas swagger, and to reframe the debate in historic terms of big ideas and significant, attainable, comprehensible goals. He's done it before in some of his most successful prior addresses -- in both of his convention acceptance speeches, for instance, and his second Inaugural.
With many commentators expecting a chastened, even frightened president facing a hostile Congress for the first time, I'm betting that he manages to exceed their paltry expectations one more time. With this in mind, the crucial demand for the State of the Union Address comes down to a simple plea: Mr. Bush, surprise us.
Michael Medved, best-selling author of "Right Turns" and "The Shadow Presidents," hosts a syndicated daily radio talk show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture. He blogs at http://michaelmedved.townhall.com/