Local leaders divided on State of the Union

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As President George W. Bush ’68 delivered his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, Rep. Rosa DeLauro sat in what she called a surprisingly “subdued” U.S. Capitol chamber — though the event featured the first ever female speaker of the House and a government whose balance of power has shifted 180 degrees for the first time in more than a decade.

Though DeLauro, a Democrat who represents the greater New Haven area, said in an interview after the speech that she was elated by the “real sense” of her party being in control, she was disappointed to see “no new direction being outlined by the president.” But some other local and national leaders said they were encouraged by the president’s commitment to stabilizing Iraq, providing for alternative energy sources, and — perhaps more so than in the past — urging bipartisan cooperation.

“Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done,” Bush said.

Although a recent News poll found that approximately 90 percent of current Yale students consider themselves liberal or moderate, Yale-trained conservatives likely had a significant impact on the speech Bush delivered. Chris Michel ’03, a former News editor in chief, is one of Bush’s speechwriters, and Joshua Bolten, a former lecturer at the Yale Law School, was appointed Bush’s chief of staff last April. Professor Charles Hill said in a recent interview that Bolten’s tenure could in part explain the conciliatory tone and willingness to change course evident in the president’s Tuesday speech.

But more than a dozen student interviews conducted shortly after the speech ended suggests that few students were watching. Several Yaies said they were catching up on homework accumulated during shopping period, but one said he “TIVOed” the speech and will watch it tomorrow.

In the speech, Bush reiterated his new policy on Iraq and urged Congress not to undermine the American effort there. But in the Democratic response to the speech, Sen. Jim Webb had tough words for Bush, promising to reach across party lines, but also threatening that the party will be “showing him the way” if he does not live up to the optimistic promises in his speech.

“The president took us into this war recklessly,” Webb said. “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor does the majority of our military.”

Meanwhile, Ned Lamont SOM ’80, in an interview from his Greenwich home less than three months after losing a contentious election to Senator Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, said that the “cloud” of Iraq was still “hanging over the entire address.”

“First, you’ve got to get Iraq right,” said Lamont, who will call for Congress to force the president to withdraw from Iraq in a speech at the Yale Political Union tonight. “I believe that the President is in a state of denial. Instead of redeploying the troops, he redeployed his generals.”

Two top generals in Iraq, including the U.S. military’s second-highest ranking general, were removed from their positions shortly after the New Year because of their skepticism about Bush’s planned troop surge.

Peter Prosol ’08, a member of the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party, said Bush is doing what American leaders should have done to win Vietnam, and that his plan tonight contrasts favorably with plans set forth at past State of the Union addresses.

“Up until now, Bush was constantly talking about fighting terrorists, evildoers, or guerillas, but now he’s talking about holding cities and provinces, and I think that began to become effective in Vietnam, though for moral and political reasons, we withdrew nonetheless,” Prosol said. “Here I think it would be effective.”

In his speech, Bush also made proposals particularly relevant to Yale and Connecticut, on issues ranging from education to energy conservation.

Sen. Chris Dodd, who recently announced his candidacy for the presidency, said he was “heartened” to hear the president address sustainable energy independence, immigration reform and expanded health care.

“But,” he said in a statement, “we all know actions speak louder than words.”

Board of Alderman President Carl of Goldfield said he was confused by Bush’s proposals — and that he was particularly disappointed, but not surprised, about his disregard for sound health care policies.

“He only knows one solution to everything, which is the tax cut, and that’s just not a solution for people who are just barely paying taxes,” Goldfield said. “The solutions to the tax code are for middle class and wealthy people.”

Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said the president’s focus on reducing gasoline consumption is “completely aligned with Yale’s goals for improving campus sustainability.”

“We have committed to decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions and President Levin is calling on other universities follow our lead in Davos,” Hamilton said in an e-mail, referring to Levin’s trip this week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

—William Whitaker contributed to this report.

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