I understand Charlotte’s pessimism about tomorrow’s State of the Union, but remain hopeful that the President will set some important domestic priorities for his last two years in office.  Surely he knows he has to or else is condemned merely to play defense for the rest of his term.

It’s my hope that President Bush will renew his call to Democrats to engage seriously in the debate about Social Security’s future.  The Democrats are no longer the minority party and can’t continue just to play the role of critic.  They have to offer actual proposals for how they would solve the serious problems facing the nation, such as Social Security’s fiscal time bomb.  President Bush should challenge Democrats to come to the table to discuss Social Security’s future with all options — yes, both tax increases and personal retirement accounts — on the table.  Democrats’ reaction will tell a lot about whether they are serious about bipartisanship and are equipped to lead the country in the years to come.

President Bush should also forcefully defend his commitment to free trade.  This is important public policy, but is also politically critical.  Democrats have increasingly abandoned President Clinton’s New Democrat commitment to open markets and embraced protectionism.  A vocal minority of Republicans agrees with this direction and laments problems associated with “globalization,” but this is a debate that conservative can and must win.  Free trade is an engine of growth and higher standards of living both at home and around the world.  It would be a disaster for America to reverse it’s commitment to trade liberalization; the President should say so and challenge the Democrats to more clearly articulate if they want America to continue to lead the global economy or to turn inward in favor of union-backed nationalism.

The final item on my State of the Union wish list would be a call for free market healthcare reforms.  Democrats offer the public the same vision of socialized medicine that the country rejected back in 1994.  Conservative’s have winning policies on healthcare:  the government needs to extend the favorable tax treatment provided to employer-provided insurance to insurance purchased directly by individuals (as is discussed in this National Review editorial).  The government needs to continue to create more options for individuals seeking insurance by expanding Health Savings Accounts and freeing individuals to buy insurance in any state in the country.

The President doesn’t need to be combative and can welcome ideas from the Democrats, but he can’t abandon the core vision of an ownership society which he has articulated in the past.