Arrogance for the Ages
Among the few certainties of life is this: no one will mistake the second inaugural address of George W. Bush with that of Abraham Lincoln.
In one short speech, Bush encapsulated all the defining traits of his presidency. The rhetorical flourishes of his global crusade for freedom, a post-facto rationale for the war in Iraq, only amplified the arrogance and condescension that have earned America scorn abroad and produced shame for Americans at home. The meanness of spirit and the mocking tone of opponents was also present, as was the staggering hypocrisy and irony were on display. And, as usual, Bush called forth God in ways that devalue our democracy and insult our history.
Among the low lights:
From the outset, Bush could not resist the back-handed slap at President Clinton:
"After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical - and then there came a day of fire."
Central to the address was the commitment of the United States to ensuring freedom and ending dictatorial regimes around the world. This is certainly not in keeping with George Bush's Republican Party, which has championed trade with China, curried favor with Pakistan, coddled nascent fascist Vladimir Putin in Russia, and opposed the American interventions in the Balkans:
"So 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 our world."
"Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it."
As usual, the irony factor was off the charts. The only President to cut taxes during wartime, he who ran up record deficits, who asked Americans to shop and got to Disneyworld after 9/11, and he who plans to privatize Social Security and Medicare (among others) said:
"Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself - and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character."
During a time of a growing insurgency and unending violence in Iraq, W may have preferred a different choice of words than:
"By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men."
Especially delicious were his words of unity and racial healing, delivered just prior to the return to the stage of Strom Thurmond hagiographer Senator Trent Lott:
"And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time."
George W. Bush: malice towards all, charity towards none.