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Bush’s second inaugural address: an idealistic policy or a diversion?

ASK THIS | January 25, 2005

Is America embarking on a worldwide anti-tyranny movement, as Bush said, or isn't it? Either way, the press needs to follow up on the president’s lofty rhetoric.

By Barry Sussman



Q. Is ending tyranny in the world a real goal for Bush, or is it a goal on the level, say, of exploring Mars, which Bush talked about last year and then dropped?


Q. Is there some reporting, as distinct from editorializing, the press should be doing?

There are, one would think, not much more than two main explanations for President Bush’s lofty inaugural address:

  • He meant what he said — that “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.”
  • Or, Bush had to make a speech; that’s something presidents do on inauguration. But he wanted to avoid real problems — Iraq, terrorism, domestic policy —  so talking about freedom in the world was a diversion. Hollow rhetoric. 

Some take Bush at his word and are egging him on. Wrote Larry Kudlow in the National Review, “After witnessing President Bush’s second inaugural speech live and in person I have no question that Norman Podhoretz is exactly right when he writes that the president will be unyielding in his commitment to defeat totalitarian radical Islamism and will unwaveringly prosecute World War IV.” [The Podhoretz article appeared in Commentary Magazine before Bush’s inaugural address, and in it Podhoretz says he hasn’t skipped a war, that in his mind the Cold War was World War III.]


But the second explanation — rhetoric — seems more likely, since no sooner did Bush finish his oration than White House associates began telling reporters there would be no change in policy. Oddly, Bush’s father got in the act, advising the press not to read too much into the speech.


Bush’s thoughts and phrasing were indeed apocalyptic. “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.” (For the full text, click here.)


Some news organizations have done initial follow-ups, including gathering and reporting on foreign opinion, which has been mostly unfavorable, sometimes to the point of ridicule.


At this point the question arises: Will the press drop this story, on the grounds that Bush was about as serious in his words as he was in calling for space travel to Mars a year ago?  


What exactly should the press be asking? My colleague on this Web site, Dan Froomkin, has a few suggestions. Dan writes the White House Briefing column for washingtonpost.com; here are questions he posed in his column on Jan. 25th:


"Fresh reporting on Bush's second inaugural address is nowhere to be found today. Too bad, since there's a lot more ground to cover. For instance, was no one in the White House worried that it might be misinterpreted? Were the internal advocates of realpolitik unheard or overruled? How many outsiders were consulted during the writing of the speech? Did anyone express a dissenting view? What countries does Bush consider tyrannies, and what's our foreign policy approach to each one? What's the U.S. approach been to democratic movements that threaten friendly autocrats? And where do we go from here?"


In our view, Bush's oratory cries out for following up. "Every nation and culture?" Hoo boy! Not something to be taken lightly, or dropped after a few days.

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