Where exactly are we rolling?

President George W. Bush laid a broad foundation in his State of the Union address. However, the absence of any blueprints begs the question of how he intends Congress and the American people to build on that foundation.

Some of the president’s ideas put forth last night hold real promise for strengthening this nation. For instance, he refuted the shameful comments Karl Rove made two weeks ago regarding the possibility of Republicans playing up the war on terrorism to gain a political advantage. “I am a proud member of my party – yet as we act to win the war, protect our people and create jobs in America, we must act first and foremost not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” Bush said. To hear this reiteration of his earlier pledge that this war was not to be used as a political tool was comforting and reaffirming.

One of the most noble and promising of the president’s statements was his request that every American “commit at least two years – four thousand hours over the rest of your lifetime – to the service of your neighbors.” As for the execution of this, Bush should look to the USA Freedom Corps more than, if not entirely in lieu of, his faith-based initiatives because of the latter’s violation of the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment.

However, programs of Freedom Corps’ size and scope do not have a good track record. It seems that the bigger they are, the more likely they are to fail. To successfully implement this program, then, the corps should build on the faith-based initiatives’ strength and be more a grassroots organization than a large, federally based institution. If the focus is kept on communities rather than the overall national achievement, this program could flourish, aided in no small part by the sense of national unity and patriotism that have pervaded the country since the Sept. 11 attacks. If the program does indeed work, it holds the promise of, for instance, finally helping communities rebuild from the decimation of the crack epidemic in the 1980s. This recovery, as well as many others, is long overdue, and the American people owe it to themselves and their neighbors to make the effort.

Also, Bush’s pledge to “renew the promise of the Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years, and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development, and education, and opportunity in the Islamic world” will, if successful, be beneficial socially and politically the world over, provided it’s mission remains completely altruistic. Using it as a missionary service will negate the group’s obvious positive social effects. We were encouraged that this would be the case by the president’s statement that “we have no intention of imposing our culture.”

Politically, a focus on Arab nations will help fill the void left by groups such as Hamas after the United States inevitably turns it attention toward them. Though this aspect less publicized than its suicide bombings, Hamas has worked to bolster and improve the quality of life for Arabs within its area of influence. Through its humanitarian acts, it has been able to gain the support of destitute people who have nowhere else to turn. By giving these people a new avenue of hope for a better life, the Peace Corps can offer a goal more lasting and productive than martyrdom on a street in Jerusalem.

But these things cost money. And the president failed to point out how he intends the U.S. government to fund any of it. On the contrary, in fact, the only fiscal ideas he outlined would decrease the nation’s ability to pay for these programs.

Several times during the speech, Bush plugged his much-contested tax cut and reiterated his belief that it is an integral component of any economic recovery. But the tax cut will build national debt for the next decade. Former President Ronald Reagan operated under a similar economic plan during the 1980s, which had disastrous results. So although a tax cut sounds good, it is not a sound economic policy at this time.

This is especially true in light of the other goals Bush set for the country. All of them – a job for every American, a stronger military, a quality teacher in every classroom – sound wonderful. But when taken together under the shadow of a tax cut, they begin to look more like a fantasy than a plan of action.

Moreover, the president neglected to present any programmatic outline to counter this perception. He set out a group of broad goals without any real plans and a group of plans without any explanation of where the funding will come from.

Unfortunately, Bush’s ambiguity was not relegated to the promise of a better economy. Some of his foreign policy comments were much more troubling without being any more substantive.

Perhaps most disturbing was his reference to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” This thinly veiled historical reference is incendiary, solely political and plays off public emotion rather than reason. We are not engaged in World War II, and efforts to draw such deep comparisons are dangerous. For example, we did not have a hand in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. The same cannot be said for Saddam Hussein. To win the war in which we are engaged, the American public must not be duped by simplistic arguments and two-dimensional reasoning. Looking at all the facts and realizing past mistakes is necessary to ridding the world of terror, not for a week, or a month, or a year, but for good.

The president’s broad foundation is, for the most part, admirable. But a comprehensive set of blueprints is needed before the groundwork can amount to anything.