In most years, a U.S. President might touch base with key members of Congress before making surprise announcements in his State of the Union address. On Wednesday, President Bush called Mikhail S. Gorbachev before giving his first State of the Union speech. And in that address, Bush even worked in a political plug for the Soviet boss, pledging to support the movement toward democracy and economic opportunity there.
How times are changing. Who can remember when dramatic events raging across the world have meant potential benefit for the state of the American union rather than fear and foreboding?
Bush did the courtesy of telephoning Gorbachev to alert him that the White House now is prepared to negotiate a reduction of troop strengths in Europe far below any level previously proposed, down to 195,000 for each superpower. This must be welcome news for Gorbachev, who is eager to demonstrate to his critics that his reforms are paying dividends, and who is facing growing pressure from the emerging democratic governments in Eastern Europe to take his Soviet troops home. The proposed withdrawals provide good news for Americans, too. The sooner that conventional armed forces can be cut, the sooner the nation can begin to reap the fruits of any peace dividend--the sort of benefits that did not appear in Bush's new budget on Monday.
At the speech's start, Bush said he didn't intend to detail every new domestic initiative he plans in 1990. But then he ticked off his proposals pretty much like a laundry list. The general goals are good ones--who can argue with proper child care or getting youths off drugs?--but Bush pushed it by claiming that his budget provides adequate funding for those programs. It simply does not.
The magnitude of those domestic needs is scarcely diminished by the dramatic intensity of the changing U.S.-Soviet relationship. But somehow all contemporary history right now is overshadowed by the astonishing and unpredictable developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The Bush telephone call to Moscow was vivid confirmation of the extreme importance of close and mutually informative superpower communications. Perhaps Bush wished only to reach out and touch someone. One hopes he succeeded.