A lot of commentators I respect really like the inaugural
speech, including Chuck
Colson, but I have to side with the absolutely
brilliant Peggy Noonan, a former presidential speechwriter and Bush
supporter. She writes that the speech left her with "a bad feeling and
It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign
policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined
as a division between moralists and realists–the moralists taken with a
romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists
motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits
of governmental power–President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which
was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter
yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.
The administration’s approach to history is at odds with
what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the
"reality-based community." A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He
meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not
static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush
administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and
changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human
imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.
This world is not heaven.
The president’s speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a
God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention
to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter
him. God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God
moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the
permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul."
It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission.
The United States, the speech said, has put the world on notice: Good
governments that are just to their people are our friends, and those that are
not are, essentially, not. We know the way: democracy. The president told every
nondemocratic government in the world to shape up. "Success in our
relations [with other governments] will require the decent treatment of their
The speech did not deal with specifics–9/11, terrorism,
particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract.
"We are led, by events and common sense, to one
conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the
success of liberty in other lands." "Across the generations we have
proclaimed the imperative of self government. . . . Now it is the urgent
requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time."
"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 the world."
Ending tyranny in the world? Well that’s an ambition, and if
you’re going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this
declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere
between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked,
but one doesn’t expect we’re going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this
is not heaven, it’s earth.
nails the issue. Governments have God given duties in this fallen world, but
taking humanity back to Eden isn’t one of them.