There used to be a joke around this White House that every speech was the most important of the President's political career. He's given many of them that matter. Tonight's ranks right up there for different reasons.
In a way, President Bush must hit the reset button on his presidency tonight. Last year's speech came on the heels of a strong reelection victory. The President felt he'd amassed political capital and swung for the fences. Well, 2005 ended up being a humbling experience for him. Social Security, last year's big idea, flopped. So did the President's version of immigration reform. A gay marriage ban? Nope. Another big idea - tax reform - has been put off for later, if ever. What about spending restraint, the hallmark of conservative government? Bush's budget will reflect a $400 billion deficit, a number certain to rise as post-Katrina spending spikes and if the President successfully fights to make his tax cuts permanent.
More importantly, the war in Iraq has emerged as a liability. One of NBC's pollsters, Republican Bill McInturff, noted during an interview that when people say they think the country is headed in the wrong direction or when they say they oppose the President, it always comes back to the war. When high profile figures like ABC co-anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt are severely injured in an IED attack while out with Iraqi forces, it's a chilling reminder that the President's goal of Iraqi troops securing the country is a long way off.
So tonight the President has many goals. He's trying to restore the public's faith in his leadership; he hopes to outline an agenda that promises to help the Republican party maintain control of Congress in this midterm election year; he'll also try to explain why he's taken such a tough stand in the war on terror and why it requires controversial steps such as warrant-less eavesdropping on Americans.
We'll cover all aspects of this tonight on Nightly News. And during the speech itself, starting at 9 p.m. ET, I will be live, right here, posting my thoughts and answering your comments as we go. Hope you will join me!