- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

President Bush’s second Inaugural address was soaring, eloquent and bold — bolder perhaps than his cheerful but chilled audience of well-wishers may have realized:

“America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.”

Liberty was the overarching theme of the president’s 21-minute address. He pledged the United States would advance freedom, democracy and the rule of law “in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

This is a tall order — maybe unachievable — which Mr. Bush seemed to recognize, as he said: “The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it.” He noted that America’s influence, though not unlimited, is considerable and he pledged to use that influence on behalf of the world’s oppressed.

President Bush put the spread of liberty in several contexts: America’s special mission in the world, “the calling of our time”; the “visible direction” of history; and what comes down to basic self-defense or, as the president put it, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”

After four years in the White House, it is clear Mr. Bush is his own man. If not exactly indifferent, he is untroubled by what others think. Under his administration, even some of our oldest allies think America has become arrogant and self-righteous.

The president’s sole concession to those who might find a combination of hubris and overreaching in his charge “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture” was a single sentence: “America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling.”

He made a simple pledge to the oppressed of the world: “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

There is fine line between being bold and being reckless. Mr. Bush’s words recalled those of another sunny winter morning 44 years ago when John Kennedy vowed on behalf of his generation that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden” to assure the success of liberty. In the specific instance, the burden proved too great, the price too high.

As he starts his second term, this president defined the measure of success: “Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?”

Four years from now, on yet another winter morning, we’ll see.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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