Reaction to Georgie’s latest assault on the English Language was mostly negative. The New York Times seemed to like Bush’s second inaugural address the most, while admitting that it was not a speech for the ages the Times claimed that ” its universal intent suited the day.”
The Washington Post’s analysis was firmly rooted in reality, contrasting Bush’s paean to freedom with his more notorious and dictatorial partners in the War on Terra and concluding that if Chimpy doesn’t do a complete 180 in his foreign policy “his promise of ‘the greatest achievements in the history of freedom’ will be remembered as grandiose and hollow.”
Even Bush’s most reliable enablers could not muster much praise for the speech. The best retiring-none-too-soon-don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-your-wrinkled-white-ass Bill Safire could do was rank it “among the top 5 of the 20 second inaugural speeches in our history”, as if all schoolchildren in this country could recite from heart those 20 speeches. Hell, Peggy Noonan panned it outright, calling it “over the top” and suggesting that the speech was a product of “mission inebriation” (my guess is she is at least half right – pretty good for the Nooner).
But by far the best take I have seen today was that of the Los Angeles Times:
President Bush stood at the apogee of his life Thursday, and he rose to the occasion. A small man (in our view), who became president through accident of birth and corruption of democracy, he has been legitimized by reelection, empowered by his party’s control of all three branches of government and enlarged by history (in the form of 9/11). His second inaugural address was that of a large man indeed, eloquently weaving the big themes of his presidency and his life into a coherent philosophy and a bold vision of how he wants this country to spend the next four years.
There are reasons to be impressed by Bush’s new doctrine. There are also reasons to be very afraid. It would be good if this country’s foreign policy more closely tracked our professed ideals. It would be disastrous if self-righteous hubris led us into bloody and hopeless crusades, caused us to do terrible things that mock the values we are supposed to be fighting for, alienated us from an unappreciative world and possibly brought home more of the terrorism our neo-idealism is intended to suppress. There is an illustration of all these risks close to hand. But the word “Iraq” did not cross the president’s lips Thursday. He referred obliquely to the war there, only in order to say that our troops were fighting for “freedom” — which was not the main reason they were sent over.
It’s a lovely thought that freedom invariably saps the will to plant a car bomb. But is it true? When freedom and democracy came to the Balkans, people were liberated to do atrocious things to other people in the name of nationalist enthusiasms. In the Middle East, there is always danger that a “regime change” — by election, rebellion or invasion — will produce a theocracy rather than a democracy.
Bush, or his speechwriter, is not unaware of this, but the president does not brake for anomalies. Bush’s rhetoric Thursday chased itself around in circles, declaring that America’s goal — freedom and democracy, so that people can choose their own way — is not forcing people to adopt our way, which happens to be freedom and democracy.