Commentary - #10 January 21, 2005

Review of the President's Inaugural Address

George Bush's second inaugural message to the American people was striking in the scope, passion and import of its message, even if delivered somewhat dispassionately. Our role in the world as a beacon for democracy has been clarified once and for all. Europeans are already complaining at the vainglory they read into a politics of conviction that their cynicism disallows before the words are even spoken. An American can only wish that words will be translated into action, else they become empty, feeding cynicism here.

That's the problem, isn't it, the glaring gap between a great vision and feasible actions that lies between the lines of the President's speech. There's the rub, revealed by instant, post-inaugural poll results that were almost exactly opposite ? a great majority in favor of the vision, nearly a mirror image of an equally great majority doubting that the President could do much to effect it.

It doesn't have to be this way. The cost of spreading democracy is not the cost of war. One doesn't help advance democracy's cause by invading every country that treats its citizens badly. In fact, the first and least expensive way to advance the cause is one that the President, unfortunately, neglected to mention ? by example. Did he fail to mention this because he was afraid the nay-sayers would immediately seek to sully the purity of his vision with mention of election glitches in places like Ohio and Washington? So what? The perfect is the enemy of the good, an old lesson of experience that the French, among others, are unable to understand.

There are other ways, too, that our country has already demonstrated ? democracy-promoting activities that the Bush administration has been conducting ? the intelligence on which is readily available for the President's asking. For over a decade, including the administration of Bush 41 (as the President refers to his father), there has been a "Democracy Project" carried out by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Activities under this umbrella have served, at a total cost much smaller than that of the war in Iraq, to promote democracy in many countries, including Poland, Romania, Indonesia, Afghanistan and, yes ? Iraq, too. In the case of the latter two, USAID programs have been supplemented and supported by work of Special Forces and other military personnel. The examples are many. They're part of the good news about Afghanistan and Iraq that the media, doesn't choose to feature because such news doesn't provide the bloody, lurid photos and headlines that sell papers and ad space.

It's too bad that neither the President nor his staff could do the little bit of homework that would have helped make the case ? that the President's vision is not only bold and inspiring but doable. We are already walking the talk and have been for some time. Instead, the inaugural speech left us with a picture that the media pundits -- who love to feed our cynicism at every turn, perhaps hoping that it might come to match their own ? can pan as "radical," "arrogant," "pie-in-the-sky," etc. Let's call a spade a spade, Mr. President, and bait the media bears in their dens. The vision is radical, but no more so than the revolutionary vision upon which our great Republic was founded. We are the only nation born on the basis of such a great idea. Perhaps it's about time for us to live up to our ideals.

This leads back to our "example" as the first way. How can we export democracy to Iraq or anyplace else when most of us hardly know how it works, and how to make it work better, here at home? A new book, WE, THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism, shows the needs and ways. Check the "Resources" section of this website for excepts and a way to get it at a discount, or go to Amazon.com to place a retail order.

Peter Bearse, 1/21/05

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