It was great not only for its words, phrases and sounds but for its policy as well. Indeed, it was the first inaugural since 1936 in which a president articulated a new national policy and direction for his administration.
The quotes just roll off the tongue and lodge in the mind, probably forever. When the president spoke of Americans “by birth or by choice,” it sent shivers up my spine. What a wonderful way to see immigration and immigrants! “Americans by choice.”
How fundamentally true it is that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”
And when the president refused to look the other way where there is tyranny, he said, “America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains or that women welcome humiliation and servitude or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.”
Until this address, we have seen freedom as un-fascism or un-communism. In the gigantic global confrontations of those eras, we were dominated by the thinking behind FDR’s memorable characterization of Spain’s brutal dictator Francisco Franco: “Sure he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Now we have no sons of bitches. Now we accept the divide of the free and the unfree as the demarcation in the world.
What a clarion message of hope for democratic reformers throughout the world that the president said that, even though they now are “facing repression, prison or exile,” “America sees you for who you are — the future leaders of your free countries.”
Intrinsic in the president’s message is the idea that freedom spawns its own allies and generates its own power. “Freedom is the permanent hope of mankind,” he said, “the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” He noted that “history has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of liberty.”
Cynics, hiding behind liberalism, will express concern at an imperial overreach. Some will equate the president’s global crusade with others less worthy in our past. They will say that it reminds them of the Crusades or colonization and the white man’s burden or the global march of communism. But there is a vast difference between an ideology, a theological system of belief or a racial plan of conquest and a worldwide effort to help people win the right to make their own decisions about their countries even when we don’t like the result that eventuates.
Others will say that Bush has committed us to an agenda that we cannot hope to fulfill and that will lead to rash global interventionism. They may cite how JFK’s commitment to “support any friend and oppose any foe … and to bear any burden … for the survival and the defense of liberty” led to Vietnam.”
But Bush is indicating a direction, a vector, not a specific plan to achieve worldwide liberty by a date certain. And he recognizes that the force of the ideology of liberty combined harnessed by the peoples of other countries themselves must be the major propellant to liberty.
Bush’s optimism and the liberal pessimism his speech has encountered makes one wonder when the left and the right traded places. Historically, liberals were optimistic about human nature and the right was pessimistic about the potential for human improvement. Their respective ideologies were founded on these premonitions of the capacity for human progress. But, since Ronald Reagan, the right has been optimistic about people and the left imbued with a pessimism that is unworthy of its heritage and history.
Will the world respond to Bush’s appeal? France won’t. Germany won’t. Italy won’t. Their histories dictate a pessimism and a passivity that make participation in global crusades of this sort impossible. But peoples who have always cherished freedom but have often been denied it — the Spanish, the Scandinavians, the Eastern Europeans and eventually the suffering multitudes of the Middle East, Africa and Asia — will come to embrace this chance at change.
Hail to Bush for the willingness to embrace and articulate eloquence. And hail to Mark Gerson for helping him to get there. It only makes me wish I could write that well.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonEx-Clinton aide calls Trump spokesman a 'failure' Madonna to critics of women's march: 'F--k you' Women's march takes over DC MORE’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.