WASHINGTON: There is hardly a bigger bully pulpit than the Presidency of the United States. And even that lofty perch gets a boost once a year during the State of the Union address.
This year was no exception.
(Only once in recent memory was a State of the Union address in peril of being upstaged. That came in 1997 when Bill Clinton came close to losing the spotlight to a looming verdict in the O.J. Simpson civil trial.)
While an anxious world tuned in to find out just how close the US is to declaring war, the President surprised nearly everyone with a proposal that no one seemed to know was coming.
"We have the opportunity to save millions of lives abroad from a terrible disease," announced Bush, only about 70 words into the speech.
He went on to outline a bold humanitarian effort to confront the HIV epidemic in Africa, which many experts feel threatens that continent's stability.
While the proposal is certainly a step toward addressing a global crisis that has been ignored by the first world for too long, it also allowed Bush to put the emphasis back on the "compassionate" part of his persona.
Even as millions around the world were preparing to hear a man lay out his rationale for a controversial preemptive war, Bush's speechwriters deftly used the bully pulpit to juxtapose the image of the "warrior President" to that of the "healer President."
The move also gave Bush a rare chance to bask in the glow of "first mover" status on the international stage. It comes at a time when many view him as not much of a team player on the global front.
Indeed, Africa's most visible Western crusader, Irish rocker Bono, followed the announcement by challenging Bush's European counterparts to follow his lead on this humanitarian issue. More proof that the bully pulpit can work wonders, even if it's only for as long as the speech remains in heavy media rotation.