On Thursday at noon, President Bush delivered the inaugural address to his second term. He appeared markedly confident and in charge, signaling a leader who has grown into the role over four years. His speech was decent, but unfortunately afflicted by singlemindedness. No issue on the domestic agenda was addressed, nor any specific foreign policy issue. Instead we saw a celebration and exposition of American ideals by a wartime president. In spirit it may have been FDR's or Kennedy's, if only it had been more substantative and better delivered.
Bush's major problem was that he focused exclusively on grandiose rhetoric. As soon as the transcript became available online, I rushed to count the number of times the words "freedom" and "liberty" appeared. Jon Stewart did the same on The Daily Show with a running scoreboard, ultimately finding Freedom to prevail over Liberty by a score of 27-15 (to which Stewart dryly noted that "Liberty...has been playing hurt since the Patriot Act".)
The President's speech, promising at first, became a slapstick collection of cliché statements. The longer I watched, the less plausible his words seemed. All his lofty talk of America standing up for human rights and liberty and defending the oppressed--those ideals haven't always been the hallmark of Bush's first term. If those are indeed the core beliefs he is so committed to, then where was the U.S. when the genocide in Sudan broke out? Why isn't Bush encouraging friends like Musharraf or Putin to show a little more love for freedom and liberty?
The inaugural address proved to be quite enlightening to anyone who didn't already know that the President espoused freedom. Which is not to suggest that Bush's words be dismissed entirely. On the contrary, the principles he laid out in his speech are admirable. But I can only hope that Bush, after having "talked the talk", will in his second term "walk the walk." I'm still waiting for him to explain to us what he plans to actually do with his additional four years, especially with regards to Social Security (one House Republican has already termed the Bush plan a "dead horse") and the growing threat from Iran (especially in light of Sy Hersh's report and Vice President Cheney's speculation that Israel might strike first.)
Many questions remain to be answered. What that means is that the important speech to pay attention to is still to come--on February 2, when the President clues us in to the "State of the Union". It promises to be interesting, to say the least. For now, all I have left to say is, good luck to you Mr. Bush, and to all of us, in the next four years. We just might need it!