January 22, 2005

REAGAN'S LIGHTNING, BUSH'S FIRE:

A fire is lit that could burn us, too (James P. Pinkerton, January 21, 2005, Newsday)

Many say that George W. Bush is the political heir to Ronald Reagan. But as his inaugural speech yesterday showed, Bush owes more to a distant presidential predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

Reagan, in his 1985 re-inaugural, rambled through a historical anecdote about "a Boston lawyer named Adams and a Virginia planter named Jefferson" before he plunged into his main focus: economics. The Gipper rightly took credit for "25 straight months of economic growth" and pledged more pro-growth tax-cutting: "We must simplify our tax system, make it more fair, and bring the rates down for all who work and earn." It was not until the 30th paragraph of a 42-paragraph speech that Reagan turned his attention to foreign policy.

By contrast, Bush never mentioned taxes, nor did he touch upon many items in his domestic agenda. His immediate focus was foreign policy, and he got right to the point - and to the punch. Referring to the years between the fall of communism and 9/11 as "years of repose, years of sabbatical," he was taking a poke at the two presidents of the '90s, in effect accusing Bill Clinton and his own father, George H.W. Bush, of being on vacation as dire threats loomed.

But of course, Bush sees himself as more than just a mere counter-terrorist. We are led to "one conclusion," he declared: "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."

The Gipper, on the other hand, had ventured only a few such rhetorical flourishes. So the truest oratorical antecedent for the 43rd president is, in fact, the 35th president.


Actually, the national security portion of President Reagan's Second Inaugural seems to have been the template for President Bush's:
I have spoken of our domestic goals and the limitations which we should put on our National Government. Now let me turn to a task which is the primary responsibility of National Government--the safety and security of our people.

Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace on Earth. Yet history has shown that peace will not come, nor will our freedom be preserved, by good will alone. There are those in the world who scorn our vision of human dignity and freedom. One nation, the Soviet Union, has conducted the greatest military buildup in the history of man, building arsenals of awesome offensive weapons.

We have made progress in restoring our defense capability. But much remains to be done. There must be no wavering by us, nor any doubts by others, that America will meet her responsibilities to remain free, secure, and at peace.

There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce the cost of national security, and that is to reduce the need for it. And this we are trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet Union. We are not just discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons. We seek, instead, to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under the threat of mutual assured destruction; if either resorted to the use of nuclear weapons, the other could retaliate and destroy the one who had started it. Is there either logic or morality in believing that if one side threatens to kill tens of millions of our people, our only recourse is to threaten killing tens of millions of theirs?

I have approved a research program to find, if we can, a security shield that would destroy nuclear missiles before they reach their target. It wouldn't kill people, it would destroy weapons. It wouldn't militarize space, it would help demilitarize the arsenals of Earth. It would render nuclear weapons obsolete. We will meet with the Soviets, hoping that we can agree on a way to rid the world of the threat of nuclear destruction.

We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes all around us. Since the turn of the century, the number of democracies in the world has grown fourfold. Human freedom is on the march, and nowhere more so than our own hemisphere. Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make for human dignity and progress.

America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally.

And it is the world's only hope, to conquer poverty and preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace.

So we go forward today, a nation still mighty in its youth and powerful in its purpose. With our alliances strengthened, with our economy leading the world to a new age of economic expansion, we look forward to a world rich in possibilities. And all this because we have worked and acted together, not as members of political parties, but as Americans.

My friends, we live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much is changing and will change, but so much endures, and transcends time.

History is a ribbon, always unfurling; history is a journey. And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us. We stand together again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy--or we would have been standing at the steps if it hadn't gotten so cold. Now we are standing inside this symbol of our democracy. Now we hear again the echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls, and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air.

It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That's our heritage; that is our song. We sing it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our sound--sound in unity, affection, and love--one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world.

God bless you and may God bless America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2005 8:28 AM
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