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Americans React to Bush State of The Union Address - 2004-01-21


Across the United States, Americans are reacting to President Bush's State of the Union speech, Tuesday night. VOA's Barry Newhouse spoke with a few of them to find out what they thought of the President's proposals.

The first half of President Bush's speech focused on the war in Iraq and the threat of international terrorism. Mr. Bush says the United States efforts, abroad, are working to keep Americans safe at home. In Cincinnati, Ohio, Gene Steiner says the president is doing his job to keep America safe.

"Being a parent, I understand that it's a situation that - if we don't address it now - it may not be a safe place for my children or my grandchildren," he said. "So, I don't think it's going to be something we can sit back and hope goes away. So, I'm glad he has a strong position to try and make terrorism go away."

But other Americans disagree with the way they say the President is trying to make America safer. Vicki Hansen lives in the President's home state, Texas. She says the way the president has waged a war on terror has not made America safer.

"It's certainly not a diplomatic stance that works toward finding common ground and attempting to address problems before they get worse. I think that we're more in danger now than in before," she said.

The president also outlined plans to renew the Patriot Act, which broadens government powers to track terrorists. Some critics have said the law unnecessarily intrudes on privacy. But Farrell Quinlan in Phoenix, Arizona, says the Patriot Act must be working, because the United States has not suffered another serious domestic incident.

"We haven't been hit by another major terrorist attack on the homeland since 9-11," he noted, "and I think the Patriot Act is doing a lot to coordinate the intelligence agencies and the FBI and the other assets we have to make sure that we don't get another one of these tragedies."

On the domestic side, Mr. Bush urged members of Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, to continue to strengthen the economy. Charlie Poe in Tampa, Florida, agrees, but says cutting taxes, alone, isn't enough.

"You know tax cuts are good to help stimulate the economy. The problem is we've been spending more money, cutting taxes and then spending more money. If we're going to cut taxes we're going to have to cut some of the spending, too," he said.

Farrell Quinlan, in Arizona, says tax cuts are pushing the economy forward and - in time - new jobs will be created.

"The signs are all there, and I think we should take the economists at their word when they say that job growth is a lagging indicator when you're in a recovery," he said.

But Rick Raum in Huntington, New York, says, despite low interest rates and inflation, the growing economy just may not generate the new jobs the president expects.

"I think the economy can be strong and unemployment can still increase," he said. "Because technology is making so many jobs obsolete that I think we have this curious economic phenomenon that, even though the economy is getting stronger, unemployment which is normally a key indicator of that isn't going down."

Mr. Bush says a new program that would allow illegal immigrants to take jobs that American citizens are not willing to do will also help the economy. But Ms. Hansen in Texas is concerned that the program would not go far enough to protect the workers.

"I do think we need a lot of reform in our immigration laws," he said. "I question the wisdom and the motive of the guest worker plan because it doesn't build any pathway for citizenship, So, I think that it creates a dynamic that could lead to some real abuses."

Most people said the president addressed most of the issues they were interested in hearing about. However, Mr. Steiner says the president spent too much time talking about jobs and not enough time talking about the health of American businesses.

"I'm more concerned with how business is going to be able to continue to stay in business and continue business on the retail side, rather than the labor issue itself," he said.

For President Bush, the speech was a chance to answer criticism from the Democratic presidential contenders, who have been campaigning across the country. Mr. Quinlan says the president had strong rebuttals for his critics.

"Actually, it was refreshing to hear the other side of the debate. Over the past few weeks here, we've been hearing a lot from the Democratic presidential candidates about all the things that they oppose. And, it was a change of pace to see somebody forcefully defending his program and making a case that that's the way the nation should go," he said.

A lot of opinions were formulated after Tuesday's speech. Still, not much is set in concrete. It's January, 10 months from Election Day, far too early to determine if Mr. Bush's initiatives will translate into political success with voters at the polls.

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