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Editor's Page -- State Of Disunion

Why the tone of debate is as important as its substance.

President George W. Bush had an excellent chance to raise the quality of public policy debate in the State of the Union address, and for a fleeting moment, I thought he would.

"In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate," he declared early in the address. "But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of goodwill and respect for one another -- and I will do my part," he promised.

With the very next statement, however, Bush dashed all hope that he would keep that pledge. Summing up his critics' objections, he asserted: "In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline." With this, Bush shaped both the terms and the tone of future debate -- as has been his practice -- in black and white, "you're-either-with-us-or-against-us" finality.

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See The Manufacturer's Agenda: Pat Panchak's new blog about public policy issues.
Critics of Bush policies are accustomed to such name-calling. Members of the administration and its supporters have been ruthlessly quick to dismiss opposing views, calling those who raise them pessimists, isolationists and protectionists. In the most extreme situations, they question their critics' morals, courage and patriotism. It's disappointing to see the president echo those baseless charges in the State of the Union address.

Why should you care? Such rhetoric hijacks the debate about how we adapt U.S. public policy to address the historic structural shifts in the global economy, particularly the manufacturing sector. The loaded words are meant to stifle, not enhance, discussions about issues that will affect your bottom line. As a result, important problems with U.S. energy, trade, currency and other policies go unaddressed.

Within the manufacturing community, many executives -- even those who welcomed a Bush administration -- are frustrated. They believed that Bush would support U.S. manufacturing, but now see that their concerns are off the agenda. In "U.S. Steel CEOs Confident, But Worried", you'll hear from a few of these leaders, and how they continue to push for needed policy changes. The executives and many more like them have specific proposals to address problems that stifle U.S. manufacturing and that only the federal government can address. Read the story and the transcript, and you'll see that they are not the pessimists, isolationists or protectionists that the Bush administration would like you to believe.

The terms and tone of political and economic debate in this country are in shambles, yet these and other manufacturing leaders are standing their ground. They disagree with the Bush administration on myriad issues and are taking their case to Congress and the American public. Most impressive, they stick to the issues in spite of the negative -- sometimes hostile -- response from the Bush administration and its supporters. They are raising not only the important issues that are being ignored but are raising the level of debate to one of substance. We all should applaud their leadership.

Patricia Panchak is IW's editor-in-chief. She is based in Cleveland. Also see The Manufacturer's Agenda: Pat Panchak's new blog about public policy issues.

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