Anyone hoping to sum up President George W. Bush's final State of the Union address in one sentence might turn to Stephen Sondheim's great song from the stage hit "Follies": "I'm Still Here."
Bush did what lame-duck presidents usually do: He reminded the country that as commander-in-chief and chief executive for another 12 months, he is still relevant.
The president's task is not easy when only about a third of the nation believes he is doing a good job and when most people are focused on the candidates to succeed him.. But Bush gave it his best shot, saying, "We have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done."
Bush's relevance is underscored by the concern Americans have shown over disheartening economic news in recent months.
They are looking for action, not only from him but from Congress.
Addressing the nation in a week when Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are thrashing out an economic stimulus package, the president said, "The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our nation long after this session has ended."
Noting the difficulty of getting anything major accomplished in an election year, Bush added, "let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. And let us show that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time."
Bush has emphasized for months that he believes the current economic troubles were only temporary, and he sounded that theme again tonight: "Our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future. In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth."
While acknowledging a governmental role in pumping up the economy, Bush touted his conservative principles by emphasizing there is also the need for Americans to help themselves: "To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow the economy."
No one who has followed his career will doubt that he was showing his preference for tax cuts and rebates over government works programs advocated by some Democrats.
The president also warned the Senate not to make changes in the stimulus agreement he reached last week with House Democrats: "The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable."
Senate Democrats want to expand unemployment benefits beyond what Bush regards as acceptable.
Despite those differences, Democrats applauded when he spoke of the need to pass the stimulus bill quickly.
He also got a laugh from them when he spoke of his opposition to higher taxes: "Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. … Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders."
He also fired a broadside at congressional spending measures pushed by Republicans as well as Democrats, earmarks aimed at helping a particular state, district or special interest, and stuffed into appropriations bills often at the last minute and without full congressional scrutiny: "The people's trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks."