- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Today, George W. Bush will deliver the 55th presidential inaugural address in the nation’s history. He will be only the third president to deliver a second inaugural speech while America is at war. In this solemn capacity, President Bush joins James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. There have been 15 presidential elections since World War II, and Mr. Bush will be the fifth president to deliver a second inaugural address. Only two of the previous four (Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan) ended their presidencies without being impeached (Bill Clinton) or being forced to resign (Richard Nixon).

A review of the second inaugural addresses of these four men, who were each elected twice to the presidency in the postwar period, offers interesting perspectives in terms of both history and rhetoric.

Despite the widely varying challenges that confronted each president as he embarked upon a second term, each inaugural address included similar themes. For example, while global circumstances and American foreign-policy strategies differed over time, each president emphasized the pursuit of peace as an overarching goal. Always, a primary objective was to maximize human freedom throughout the world. Less than three months after the Soviet military crushed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, President Eisenhower declared that the city of Budapest would henceforth serve as “a new and shining symbol of man’s yearning to be free.” Asserting that “peace is the climate of freedom,” Eisenhower pledged that America’s “fixed purpose” would be “the building of a peace with justice in a world where moral law prevails.”

In 1973, Mr. Nixon, noting that “[u]nless we in America work to preserve freedom, there will be no freedom,” argued that “America’s role is indispensable in preserving the world’s peace.” Twenty-four years later, after reminding his global audience that America “saved the world from tyranny in two world wars and a long Cold War,” Mr. Clinton rightly observed that “America stands alone as the world’s indispensable nation.” Twelve years earlier, in a statement that his opponents claimed to be a non sequitur, Mr. Reagan argued that the United States had “made sincere efforts at meaningful arms reductions by rebuilding our defenses [and] our economy and [by] developing new technologies that helped preserve peace in a troubled world.” Less than three years later, he was vindicated by the treaty that eliminated U.S. and Soviet intermediate nuclear-missile forces in Europe and set the stage for dramatic cuts in long-range nuclear weapons. Four years later, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded.

All four presidents hailed the opportunity that America offers; and several stressed personal responsibility and the need for limited government. Nearly 50 years ago, Eisenhower observed: “The American experiment has, for generations, fired the passion and the courage of millions elsewhere seeking freedom, equality, opportunity.” Twenty years ago, Mr. Reagan talked about “an American opportunity society” and implored us to “remember that, though our heritage is one of blood lines from every corner of the Earth, we are all Americans pledged to carry on this last best hope of man on Earth.” Mr. Nixon referred to “the God-given right of every American to full and equal opportunity.” Mr. Clinton said an important role of government was to “give all Americans an opportunity — not a guarantee, but a real opportunity — to build better lives.” Asserting that there is “work to do, work that government alone cannot do,” Mr. Clinton insisted that “[e]ach and every one of us, in our own way, must assume personal responsibility.” Mr. Clinton seemed to echo Mr. Nixon’s observation nearly a quarter-century earlier: “In trusting too much to government, we have asked of it more than it can deliver,” Mr. Nixon said, adding, “Government must learn to take less from people so people can do more for themselves.” Mr. Reagan agreed: “We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give.”

Finally, true to American tradition, all four second inaugural speeches of the postwar period called upon the help and guidance of God. While Eisenhower sought “the blessings of Almighty God,” Mr. Clinton beseeched God’s help in “strengthen[ing] our hands for the good work ahead.” Mr. Nixon asked for the prayers of his audience so that “in the years ahead, I may have God’s help in making decisions that are right for America.” Perhaps Mr. Reagan said it most eloquently: In song, “We raise our voices to the God who is the author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our song — in unity, affection and love. One people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world. God bless you and may God bless America.”

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