There was no heart-stopping moment, and Fred Barnes reportedly said last night on Fox that this year’s SOTU wasn’t one of GWB’s best speeches. But I agree with The Other Charlotte. We saw a confident (not cocky as Tom Shakes of the WaPo would have it) leader certain about what he has accomplished and what remains to be done.

Bush defined the terms of the coming election last night. Like TOC, I loved it whenever the camera panned to the Democrats, especially the churlish Ted Kennedy rolling his eyes. I don’t mind raucous politics so I was not offended when they applauded at the president’s noting that the Patriot Act, which may be partly why there’ve been no attacks since Sept. 11, is set to expire soon and must be renewed. They weren’t applauding because of their opportunity to renew it! One of GWB’s best lines was the United States “will never seek a permission slip to defend the safety of our country.” (Good thing ’cause the U.N. ain’t gonna give us one.)

Bush attributed the signs of recovery to the tax cuts’and asked for more relief. “The American people are using their money far better than government would have and you were right to return it to them,” he told the Congress. Grim Democrats looked like they want our money back. Bush’s resounding praise of tax cuts made me (almost) forgive him for his job training proposals. Most of the time, Job training is a euphemism for paid vacation. Ditto programs to help inmates get back into society. They went to jail not because they were jobless but because the did something naughty. But this is the sort of rigmarole that I guess appeals to a certain segment of the voting public.

The Democratic response was fascinating. In an apparent effort to humanize themselves (no easy task) Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi sat before a cozy fire. Drac-Daschle even tried to smile, but it seemed awfully painful. Pelosi’s Nancy Reagan red outfit wasn’t the only thing that seemed a tad Republican. She made a point of voicing her admirable support for the troops. Like the feminists who prattle on  endlessly about their children, Democrats now go out of their way to appear strong on defense without actually being strong on defense. But Pelosi did come admirably to the point: GWB had “launched a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war.”

Like Bush, she threw down the gauntlet last night. She said exactly what the election will be about’and Bush said pretty much the same thing. “I know some of you doubt if America is in a war at all ,” he said. He noted that the legal actions after World Trade Center I, in 1993, did not deter future terrorists attacks.