The state of the union is, well, confused.

As a nation, we are in a period of great transition. iPhones, Blackberrys and assorted other PDAs keep us connected, even when we don’t want to be. Social networking sites keep our kids connected with their friends and who knows who? More and more Americans are convinced that the world is going to end if we don’t stop driving. More and more Americans will eat only organic foods. Broadband means we can be connected to the world faster than ever, but we aren’t sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The price of lattes keeps creeping up, as does the price for a gallon of milk. And, because of the writers’ strike, television addicts are stuck watching reality TV or reruns.

American democracy is stronger then ever, despite the best efforts of a misguided campaign finance law that attempted to limit free speech. Everybody who has an opinion is expressing that opinion in many different platforms, from letters to the editor, to blogs, and every platform in between.

America’s brief reign as the undisputed king of the world is nearing an end. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we started calling ourselves the only world superpower. America does better as an underdog. While we still have the world’s most important economy and the strongest military, we can’t go it alone, despite the wishes of protectionists and isolationists.

Some of those isolationists want to create a mythic place called Fortress America, where Americans produce goods only for America, where we stay out of foreign entanglements, and we keep all those darn immigrants out. But immigration has always been the life-blood of America, keeping us competitive with new energy and new ideas. And imports have made American consumers fat and happy. Fortress America does not and should not exist.

The rise of China and the emergence of a petrol-rich Russia present both challenges and opportunities. They lead the world in the production of fake goods that distort the marketplace. But the more prosperous these nations become the more potential customers they create for our products.

The collapse of the dollar also is a double-edged sword. It should be good for our manufacturers, but it is not good for our international prestige and raises the specter of inflation.

The world economy seems both durable and fragile. The recent stock market panic may have been created by a low-level clerk at a French bank who made frightfully bad gambles with other people’s money, losing 7 billion dollars in the process and sparking a computer-generated sell-off that cost investors trillions of dollars. Add to that a general concern about the plunging U.S. real estate market, and you have a bunch of spooked investors. But barriers to trade between nations seem to moving in the right direction (lower) and more and more of the developing world is developing quickly (India, China).

As we enter into the final year of the Bush presidency, it does little good to take the short-term view.

The people who hate President Bush really hate him. The people who love him really love him. And the people in the middle, as opinion polls show, can take him or leave him, but mostly leave him.

President Bush has been largely right on the issues, although he has a mixed record in getting the kind of results he wanted.

The president’s biggest success has been his fight against international Islamic terrorism. Since Sept. 11, the terrorists have been on the run. They are losing in Iraq, and they haven’t been able to hit the United States again despite many efforts to do so.

Bush was right about immigration. Our system is broken and needs to be fixed. I wouldn’t have put all my eggs in the basket of Senate backroom deal that was easily attacked by both the right and the left, and I would have made certain that the Democrats were on board, but he was right about creating a better, more practical, policy.

He was right about education. Nothing is more important to America’s future than a first-class education system, and you can’t have a first-class education system without standards. But we are still a long way away from getting the kind of education system we need.

He was right about Social Security. We can take small steps now to fix Social Security or we can have big crisis later. The people have spoken. They would rather deal with a big crisis later.

He was right about Medicare. His plan has been a huge success, and it included free-market reforms. But no Republican would ever want to talk nicely about Medicare reform.

And he is right about the economy. Keeping taxes low is still the best thing you can do to promote economic growth. But he didn’t cut wasteful government spending enough, or reform the government in fundamental ways to make it more efficient.

Bush’s biggest failure came with lowering the partisan temperature in Washington. You can’t just blame him for that, though. This is probably the most partisan Democratic leadership (on both sides of the Rotunda) in the history of the Congress. The nasty things Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line MORE has said about Bush go beyond the pale, and let’s face it, Nancy Pelosi has very little regard for Republicans.

History will judge Bush as either a great failure or as a strong leader who tried to do the right thing to make America a better place.

Heading into the next election, the odds are improving for the Republicans to keep the White House. The two leading Democratic candidates both have significant weaknesses that are being exposed by their opposition, while the leading Republican candidates all have significant crossover appeal. I wouldn’t say that Republicans are the favorites yet, but they are looking much better than they did a couple of months ago.