I thought Bush didn't do very well, but not just because he appeared deflated. I thought he spent too much time with general cliches and not enough on specifics. Let's start with what he didn't, ...
The let-freedom-ring rhetoric is wearing thin. What I thought he should have pointed out, something I heard from an embedded reporter on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer was that the additional troops serve an important function - to date, American troops only patrol hotspots, and the insurgents just wait out the patrols before wrecking havoc. The additional troops would actually help establish bases in the hotspots, a significant function.
To be fair, he did, for the first time, seem to get tough on the Iraqi government, at least verbally, putting them on notice asking them to deliver. I suspect this will not yield much though, since Maliki's butt belongs to the Shiite militias craving Sunni blood, but it's a start. Maliki doesn't want US troops to leave, and we need to start indicating that if he wants to kiss up to Sadr, maybe he'll have to step aside for Sadr when American troops leave.
Energy and Climate Change
Bush wants to cut oil consumption by 20% in the next 10 years - fuggadeboutit! Not happening! At present, none of the other technologies will dramatically reduce oil consumption by more than a few percent in the next ten years, as I understand it, and fuel efficiency standards improvements will probably be counterbalanced by greater consumption. Listen, it all comes down to this - now everyone's talking about this issue (don't get me wrong - as a tree-hugger, I love that people are) because of concerns about global warming, but especially because people still remember the high gas prices in the recent past. All the OPEC would need to do is allow low oil prices for a couple of years and people will return to their gas-guzzling ways!
I do think oil will eventually be on the downslide, but not quite yet. The optimists often point to how competitive alternate fuels are (I was in a talk Friday where someone from GE Energy has a similar chart) but these assume record oil prices which are largely driven by speculation. I do think every price spike encourages more money into R&D for alternate fuels, but I think Bush would have done well to detail more specific initiatives to help in the development of alt fuels. For wind power, for example, the greatest deterrant is that most farmers who can build the wind farms are not close enough to the grid to sell their generated power back. Tax and other initiatives in this area would go a lot longer than a wannabe green president.
I'm with Bush on needing to reform the healthcare system. The tax initiatives are an interesting step, as is his push for Health Savings Accounts. But again, I think his plan to help uninsured is flawed - most of the uninsured pay little by way of income taxes, so tax initiatives are unlikely to spur them to buy insurance. I do think there is a need for a creative solution, and this isn't necessarily it.
Finally a topic where I thought Bush whacked it out of the park. Short but sweet! Securing the borders is nice, but impossible unless we reduce the stress. Allow legal workers and border agents can focus on drug dealers, criminals and terrorists. And by documenting this workers, we can keep track of them. Excellent! I couldn't say much more.