Unfortunately, I am buried in meetings today and could not listen to President Bush’s inaugural speech, so I have to be satisfied with reading it from the White House site. I have not yet read any other reviews or commentary, so I have not yet been influenced by friends or opponents; nor have I heard the delivery, so I cannot know how well the words came across. But from reading the speech, I can only say that Bush’s words will ring out as a clarion call for America to rise up and accept its mission of freedom for the world once again, for ourselves and the sake of humanity.
One element of this speech that sets it apart from other such events is the lack of any mention of programs, bills, or specific ideological issues. The upcoming State of the Union speech will contain all that and more, I’m certain. Bush briliantly avoids this petty politicking in favor of expressing a vision of an activist America standing beside those who work and suffer (and die) to advance the cause of human liberty. He picked this one theme and explores all of its reach and ramifications.
I especially liked this passage:
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
If I could have listened to just one small part of this speech, I would have chosen this passage. I believe that the declaration “no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave” will truly have historical reach. In the most basic analysis, that has always been the promise of America, even when we refused for almost 200 years to live up to that mission.
What may garner more attention in the moment is this bold statement from Bush:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.
That sets the bar at the highest levels for this American administration and all that follow. For too long, we have allowed those who trade stability for freedom in other nations to achieve the peace of the moment. On 9/11, we found out that this has its own price, and that we received no bargain for our efforts. Excusing dictators and kleptocrats in the long run creates fury, rage, and hopelessness that these same autocrats find useful in directing against us for their own purposes. That cycle has to end, for our own security.
In fact, in its own way, this might be one of the most radically classical-liberal American speeches in a generation.
No great inaugural speech is without a call to serve a greater vision, and Bush’s speech eloquently fills this requirement:
All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself – and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character.
America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home – the unfinished work of American freedom. In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.
And the final invocation reached back to the founding of this greatest experiment in self-government and demanded recognition that it remains as relevant, audacious, and hopeful as it was 230 years ago:
When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, “It rang as if it meant something.” In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength – tested, but not weary – we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.
Truly inspired. Truly inspiring. This was a speech that almost all Americans can own without regard to ideology or partisanship.
UPDATE: RattlerGator has the breakdown of “best lines” from the Fox News panel. I have to agree with Fred Barnes on this one, which I should have mentioned in my post:
By our efforts we have lit a fire as well, a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.
That almost completely sums up the theme of this inaugural address and the overall philosophy of this Bush presidency.
UPDATE II: The Elder at Fraters Libertas explains why the hard Left hates Bush. It’s all about the F-word. Really. It’s one of the best analyses I’ve read so far.
UPDATE III: Another great analysis from Brant at SWLiP looks at the similarities between Bush’s speech and the writings of noted Soviet dissident turned Israeli politician Natan Sharansky. Brant is encouraged, and so am I.