The president hit a solid home run in his 2004 State of the Union address.
The first base he had to touch was the marriage issue. President Bush did what he had to do for his conservative base regarding marriage: He made it clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. He cited federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (and in a stroke of genius, reminded the assembled lawmakers that DOMA was signed by President Clinton, a Democrat), which legally defines marriage as the union of a man and woman. Further, he warned activist judges that they cannot redefine marriage by court order, and that, if they do, they will be met with the “constitutional process.” This carefully nuanced response respected the fact that conservative organizations differ in their solutions to the problem of judicial activism. At the same time, the president joined conservatives in taking a strong stance against judicial tyranny.
The president rounded second base with his choice of language. He clearly stated that our nation must defend the “sanctity” of marriage and that marriage is defined by “moral tradition.” Though he shied away from addressing the question of homosexual civil unions, he nevertheless tied the marriage issue to America’s moral tradition and the sanctity of the institution.
For years, the far Left has had its own rhetoric, in which certain words carry special meanings to those “in the know.” Now, conservatives have their own way of conveying messages that have unique significance for them. In the State of the Union address, Christians heard special messages that were conveyed with skillfully placed words. For believers, the “sanctity” of marriage is rooted in those biblical principles that sustain marriage; defining marriage through its “moral tradition” carries specific ramifications in terms of Judeo-Christian values and beliefs.
The president reached third base with his resounding message about abstinence and his announcement that federal funding for abstinence programs will double. Again, the careful crafting of the speech was evident. The president talked about abstinence in terms of “right choices” – taking back the word “choice” for more positive uses in terms of a woman’s reproductive options. The only right choice to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, he said, is abstinence. It wasn’t necessary to add that by making the “right choice” early on, a teenager would not have to face Planned Parenthood’s murderous “choice” later.
The aspect of the address that sealed the homerun was the president’s gravitas. His remarks transcended politics and moved beyond partisanship. He spoke of the values that never change, and he praised the institutions that instill those values, calling them the “unseen pillars of civilization.” He challenged the nation to counter our culture’s negative influences, in order to send the right messages to our children. He called on professional athletes and others to set the right example. He ended with soaring rhetoric: “By our actions, we have shown what kind of nation we are. In grief, we found the grace to go on. In challenge, we rediscovered the courage and daring of a free people. In victory, we have shown the noble aims and good heart of America.”
This is a president confronted by a yawning cultural divide, and facing an electorate divided into red and blue camps. That political rift based on values and beliefs was on clear display Tuesday night. Even when President Bush addressed deep moral issues that should have a broad cultural consensus across party lines – e.g., helping children make right choices about drugs and about teen sex – so many liberals could not bring themselves to cheer. Partisanship trumped statesmanship.
I watched the speech in an auditorium in the White House with an invited group of conservative opinion leaders. Early on, we laughed at the comedic aspects of the Left’s unwillingness to forget politics and be united Americans. As the speech moved into the deeper moral issues, however, the group became subdued and seemed troubled by the sight of national legislators who put partisanship ahead of their concern for the future of the nation’s children. I think people in living rooms all across America had the same response. President Bush understands that American families care about the moral issues; the Left continues to disregard those concerns at its peril. Any presidential candidate who doesn’t grasp the necessity for helping families “raise healthy, responsible children” is unlikely to win the presidency. He doesn’t deserve to.
–Janice Crouse directs Concerned Women for America’s think tank, the Beverly LaHaye Institute.