(CNSNews.com) - Six months into office, President Bush has fulfilled campaign promises and followed a steady political course in Reagan-esque fashion.
Good? Yes. But perfect? Hardly.
That's the assessment of a panel of mostly conservative pundits, who gave the president high marks for his early-term successes but remained guardedly skeptical of the administration's direction.
"The jury is still out," syndicated columnist and TV commentator Robert Novak said Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, which hosted the panel discussion.
When President Bush entered office, he asked for a public evaluation at 180 days - not the typical 100-day benchmark. So at the six-month juncture, with Congress out and the president at his ranch, the Heritage Foundation figured it was time to deliver grades, a little praise and some warnings.
The panel's take?
It was unanimous: President Bush has been a success, particularly in passing a tax cut, promoting education reform, taking a conservative stance on stem-cell research and defending U.S. interests in foreign-policy debates.
Another unanimous evaluation: President Bush needs a speech coach.
Or at least, he needs to learn how to communicate, well, the way President Clinton did - publicly, openly and with the kind of candor and concern he displayed in Thursday's 11-minute spot on national television.
"The missing element of the Bush administration is the bully pulpit," said Novak, who suggested President Bush use his spokesmen less and give more press conferences.
Presidential tongue-twisters and media shyness weren't the panel's only concerns. Novak chided the administration for not doing more about the economic slowdown.
And U.S. News and World Report columnist Michael Barone questioned the president's commitment to stunting government expansion - especially since the Republican-led Congress was able to keep a financial cap on government growth in the late 90s. "I think that's one area in which he's fallen short," Barone said.
While Novak called the tax cut "absolutely meaningless," most touted it as the administration's defining moment, if for no other reason than it diverts excess funds from a pork-hungry Congress.
"It clamps some kind of a lid on spending," Barone said.
Kim Holmes, the Heritage Foundation's foreign policy expert, gave the president a "solid B" for a mix of positives (missile defense and the Kyoto Treaty) and negatives (little action on foreign-policy talk).
"He has reasserted an American voice on world affairs," Holmes said. "... Some of his critics call it unilateralism or isolationism. It used to be called leadership."