SPREADING FREEDOM AT HOME & ABROAD (NEW YORK POST EDITORIAL) 02/03/05)
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February 3, 2005 -- In his State of the Union Address, Pres ident
Bush last night laid down a se ries of critical challenges both for
eign and domestic to Congress, to the American people and to this
na tion´s friends and enemies alike.
It was a serious speech delivered by a serious man and it will
receive serious study around the world.
Indeed, last night´s speech coming hard on the heels of the
president´s soaring inaugural address and the weekend´s stunning
Iraqi electoral turnout should lay to rest forever the notion that
George W. Bush is a lucky lightweight. For better or worse, he´s
changing the world.
Substantially for the better, we think.
The nation last night saw a president unwilling to avoid the
difficult issues in his second term. On the contrary: Bush´s forward-
looking address demonstrated that he intends to push for utterly
fundamental changes in both domestic and foreign policy, such as
those that characterized the incumbencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Ronald Reagan.
Bush noted that "the state of our union is confident and strong." The
coming challenge, he said, is to "do what Americans have always done
and build a better world for our children . . . and grandchildren."
The initial focus of the president´s constitutionally mandated annual
report to Congress was on domestic affairs; this was possible in
large part because of America´s success in confronting terrorism and
spreading freedom abroad.
It is an ambitious agenda, particularly regarding Social Security,
which he proposes overhauling gradually, to be sure, but also in
And, in so doing, he initiated a domestic debate that will continue
Then the president made it clear that as far as he´s concerned
America´s job overseas is far from finished.
Bush noted the success of last Sunday´s Iraqi national elections
achieved only at a humbling cost in lives and treasure.
He declared, in no uncertain terms, that America is prepared to go
further and "encourage a higher standard of freedom," even as we
continue to "fight the common threat of terror."
And then he raised the stakes of the game profoundly.
Bush explicitly warned America´s traditional Arab allies that they
too must travel the road to freedom.
Said Bush: "The government of Saudi Arabia" whose domestic
repression and support for terrorists have long been tolerated by
U.S. administrations "can demonstrate its leadership in the region
by expanding the role of its people in determining their future."
Given that those people, the royal family aside, now enjoy no role in
determining their future, Bush´s declaration was an unprecedented
public confrontation, if softly enunciated, with the nation that
supplies most of our oil needs.
And, he added, "the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the
way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward
democracy in the Middle East." So now even the staunchest U.S. allies
must recognize that they cannot hold back the rising tide of freedom
Bush did not shy away from the need to "confront regimes that
continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder"
specifically naming Syria and Iran.
And he uttered what may have been the most significant words of the
"To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own
liberty, America stands with you."
Those words echoed President Eisenhower´s similar declaration to the
people of Hungary in 1956, shortly before they rose up albeit
unsuccessfully against Soviet domination. Whether they spark unrest
in Iran remains to be seen. But the mullahs now must contend with
American special-forces troops on two borders and the U.S. Navy in
the Persian Gulf: You can bet they´re taking the president´s
remarkable pledge with the utmost seriousness.
On the domestic front, Bush sounded fa miliar themes: The need
to "restrain the spending appetite of the federal government" (though
he himself has had difficulty showing such restraint); the urgent
need for tort reform and domestic energy sources; challenges to
reform the nation´s tax code and immigration systems, and a defense
of traditional marriage and faith-based moral values.
His most controversial proposal, of course, concerned Social
Though congressional Democrats loudly disagreed, Bush made a
convincing case that the system "one of America´s most important
institutions, a symbol of the trust between generations" is headed
In calling for "an open, candid review of the options," the president
cited a number of proposals that have been put forth by Democrats,
including the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Bush´s own
contribution to the debate is voluntary personal retirement accounts
with sufficient safeguards so that retirement income is not
Ultimately, the president´s overriding emphasis was on freedom, at
home and abroad and on the undeniable link between them. It was the
same theme he´d sounded in his inaugural, and it´s now clear it will
be the ideological core of his second term.
It was on this note that the most poignant moment of the evening
arrived, when Bush recognized Janet and Bill Norwood, parents of
Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood killed in action in the assault on
Fallujah. They represented, in the president´s words, "freedom´s
defenders, and our military families."
Standing in the row in front of the Norwoods, next to First Lady
Laura Bush, was Safia Taleb al-Suhail an Iraqi woman whose father
had been assassinated by Saddam´s secret police, and who voted for
the first time on Sunday.
The president paused, as a grieving American mother was thanked with
an emotional embrace from a free Iraqi woman, profoundly grateful for
the Norwoods´ sacrifice.
Sometimes leadership resides more in symbols than in the spoken word
and that image will be remembered for a long, long time.
Nor was it an accident that, at the end of his speech, Bush quoted
Franklin Roosevelt: "Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that
is coming to birth."
Bush clearly shares FDR´s determination to bring about great changes
"As we watch our children growing into adulthood," the president
said, "we ask the question: What will be the state of their union?"
With his speech last night, George W. Bush made clear that he expects
it to be as confident and strong as it is today. (Copyright 2005 NYP
Holdings, Inc. 02/03/05)
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