Just Above Sunset
January 23, 2005 - Reactions to the Inauguration of George Bush for his Second Term

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

We have a new manifest destiny, and lots of people are worried.


First up, Eric Alterman on the re-coronation this week, we get this –


What is one to say about today?  To the horror of its well-wishers across the world, the United States—once the “last, best hope of mankind”- is re-inaugurating the worst president in its history; one who has exploited an attack, the success of which its own incompetence helped enable, in order to execute an extremist agenda that is killing thousands, costing trillions and leaving all of us far more insecure than when it began.  Before November 2, we could argue it was all a mistake; the guy ran as a “compassionate conservative,” misrepresented his record, Nader screwed everything up, and we actually voted for Gore anyway.  It took the Republicans on the Supreme Court—two of whom were appointed by the guy’s dad—to stick the country with this regime filled with ideological fanatics and corrupt incompetents.  Now, what are we to say?  Fifty-nine million members of our nation do not mind that we were deliberately misled into a war that has drained our blood and treasure to create nothing but hatred and chaos; and that the very people who were at fault have been rewarded and promoted, encouraged to look for new targets to spread their hubristic malevolence.  It defies all logic and truthfully, my ability to explain or even fully understand it.  One thing is for certain: Based on an virtually unanimous unwillingness to consider its past mistakes and learn from them, things are going to get far, far worse before they get better.  Thousands more will die. … Trillions more will be squandered.  Millions more will grow to hate and revile the name of the United States of America and prepare to attack us in ways for which our government is resolutely unwilling to prepare.  Avoidable catastrophe awaits this nation and its victims during the next four years as we will undoubtedly reap what we have sown.


One thing’s for certain, none of this would have been possible without the enthusiastic cooperation—if not cheerleading—of the nation’s mainstream media.  …   Four years from now we will be assessing the fallout from that catastrophe undoubtedly in dead Americans, Iranians and additional hatred—and terrorists—bred the world over.  God Bless America.  We are going to need all the help we can get.


Andrew Sullivan on the speech -  


...the relationship of rhetoric to reality is, as always with Bush, problematic. How do you reconcile the expansion of freedom with Bush's expansion of government? How do you square domestic freedom with the curtailment of civil liberties in a war on terror? How do you proclaim that America is a force for freeing dissidents, when the government now has unprecedented powers to detain anyone suspected of terror across the globe and subject them to coercive interrogation techniques that the government will not disclose? Perhaps these questions do not need to be answered in an inaugural address. But they linger in the air, even as Bush's eloquence and idealism lifts you up and gives you hope.


Reference for the next comment - Amendment XXII  


Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.


Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.


Get your guesses in now: on what date will the first media mention of a groundswelling movement to repeal the 22nd Amendment be seen or heard? During the build-up to the Iran War or during the Iran War?


Richard Cohen is good too, and I like the reference to the Iraqi province of Oz, below, in relation to the inauguration speech.  “The town is now in a celebratory mood, though precisely what is being celebrated is impossible to tell.”


Money Quote?  “ … now it's a grand march toward Middle East democracy.  Daily, Americans are losing their lives for . . . well, it's hard to say.  A Shiite majority?  Sunni participation in the elections?  An autonomous Kurdish state?  All of these, without question, are issues that have long transfixed the people of Omaha and other cities in America and for which they have gladly sacrificed their sons and daughters.”


You will find that here:


Fool's Gold

Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page A25


Alchemy is the purported science of turning base metals into gold. It does not exist. Political alchemy is the ability to turn hard failures into gossamer triumphs. It does exist. The inauguration of George W. Bush for a second term proves it.


The president, of course, does not see it that way. He proclaims himself at the top of his game: ruler of the free world, liberator of Iraq and magnificent chief of the Grand Old Party. Most important, to him, is that his view is shared by the American people. His reelection was no mere mandate since, you will recall, he claimed that the last time, when he scratched out a win in Florida by a few hundred votes. No, this victory is a mandate of Rooseveltian dimensions.


In reality, Bush's view of the American people is not shared by the American people. …


Or so Cohen says.


His conclusion?


Bush's unsurpassed achievement has been in turning fantasy into reality, failure into success.  He strides the world stage, a smile on his face and a mandate in his pocket.  Behold the gold!  What, you don't see it?  No matter.  Washington does.




How does the rest of the world see this?  The New York Times does the legwork here.


Some selections from that –


The Daily Telegraph (London)


Now comes the hard part. President George W. Bush's elegy to freedom yesterday and his vision of it flowering around the world fitted into the long tradition of inaugural speeches that blend America's optimism with smugness about the reach and benefits of its power.


But unlike most of his predecessors, Mr. Bush has repeatedly made clear that he sees "spreading freedom" as more than a slogan. For him it is a mission. ... Officials know full well that Mr. Bush will, if he thinks necessary, sweep Iraq's problems under the Oval Office carpet and seek to bring an end to North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs.


Frankfurter Rundschau


So which way now, Mr. President? Words alone do not give us much of a clue; this much we have learned from Bush.


In his first term, he declared the war on terror - without any doubt a good idea - and along the way he massively cut down on civil liberties in the U.S.A. and demolished the relations with many allies.


He promised peace and democracy for Iraq - who would have wanted to oppose this - and turned the bloody dictatorship of Saddam into an anarchic stronghold of terror, paying with the lives of many thousands, also American deaths. ... Idealism, freedom and a reform of the social welfare system: the most powerful man in the world has found big words for his second term. But once again he will be judged by his actions.


La Repubblica (Rome)


[Mr. Bush] finally feels at peace with himself, is satisfied with himself and thus is even more disturbing. ... There is the sense of a man who now considers the entire world as his own parish.


Die Tageszeitung (Berlin)


If you take seriously what Bush said before and during his inaugural address, you will really dread this U.S. government. ...The message of yesterday's big - and many U.S. citizens thought too big - and carefully staged inauguration is clear: The continuity from his first term will remain, but at the same time this U.S. government will have more sense of mission and do whatever it thinks is right and won't have anybody else disturb it. ... The horror is justified.


Libération (Paris)


It's on a cloud that George W. Bush went through these three days of ceremonies, galas, candlelight dinners and balls. Flushed pink with happiness, blinking from the emotion, his face was everywhere on television. The fireworks feted him. The onlookers cheered him. Sixty million dollars went up in festive smoke. The Texan, who generally likes to present himself as an average guy, gave in to the pleasure of majesty.


You might get the idea the speech was one that said we were going to go everywhere in the world and change governments to be what we want them to be, because we can and should, as we’re right and everyone else is wrong – and God is on our side.  That seemed to be the general idea.


Did we sign up for that?  Guess so.


But even the far-right Peggy Noonan – Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter – was a bit disturbed, as she explained in the very conservative Wall Street Journal - 


The inaugural address itself was startling.  It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike.  Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian.  George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.


A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president's evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.


What?  She expected moral modesty?  When God is on your side?  (But he did not mention colonizing Mars at all, luckily.)


Then this –


It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.


The administration's approach to history is at odds with what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the "reality-based community."  A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.


What?  She expected just little bit of realism?  Get real.  It’s the God thing.


The president's speech seemed rather heavenish.  It was a God-drenched speech.  This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him.  God was invoked relentlessly.  "The Author of Liberty."  "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind … the longing of the soul."


It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission.  The United States, the speech said, has put the world on notice: Good governments that are just to their people are our friends, and those that are not are, essentially, not.  We know the way: democracy.  The president told every nondemocratic government in the world to shape up. "Success in our relations [with other governments] will require the decent treatment of their own people."


And that led to the thesis of the speech – everyone saw it – everyone heard it.  It is our job to end tyranny in the world.  That’s out mission now.


Noonan has a problem with that.


Ending tyranny in the world?  Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one.  But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing.  Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon.  … this is not heaven, it's earth.


Yeah, but we have what we have – a leader who is somewhere between dreamy and disturbing.  Not good.  Unless the rapture is coming and you’re on the right side.


Perhaps next time we will elect someone who is attached to this world – to reality or something.


But is that what the people want?


It’s going to be a bumpy ride.




I received many comments from friends – and this from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


I wasn't sure I wanted to watch the speech at all, not so much because of the way I feel about Bush but because I can't stand watching ceremonies on television.  I prefer to hear about them later from some pundit who was required to take the time to listen and who will then just summarize the main stuff.  Still, I decided to give it a shot this time, just in case I would pick up something the pundits missed.


But about one minute into his speechifying, my brain just buzzed out.  All I could hear was "Blah, blah blah ... blah blah."  Afterwards, I was surprised to hear the pundits enthusiastically discussing the speech as if something worthy of note had taken place.  I guess I missed the whole thing.


Oh, well, I guess I can now say that I saw my civic duty as a citizen, and I done it.


Well, the speech was delivered during the working day here on the west coast.  I just read about it and skimmed the transcript in the newspaper.


But I get the idea.  We have a new manifest destiny, and lots of people are worried.




Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....