- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

Words can be action. Winston Churchill, it was said, mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. Just as the first Elizabeth, that queen with the stomach of a king, had done in the time of the Spanish armada.

Franklin Roosevelt’s voice stirred a nation out of not just an economic but a spiritual depression. (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”)

And Lincoln … If his Gettysburg Address was a new founding, his miraculous Second Inaugural, delivered to a nation still broken and grieving, was more revelation than statecraft, as if it had been engraved on stone tablets. (“With malice toward none, with charity for all … .”)

And how will this president’s Second Inaugural be seen someday? Much depends on how he shapes that someday.

Free nations should not make the mistake of relying only on words. Mr. Lincoln didn’t.

George W. Bush had the honor — and burden — of being sworn in as president of the United States last Thursday not because of any words of his. No one would ever mistake him for a man of natural eloquence. His eloquence lies elsewhere. In the clench of his jaw, in his willingness to act and not just talk.

Without the benefit of any empirical evidence whatsoever, but just on the basis of instinct and intuition, I daresay he’s president today because many Americans, including many who might disagree with his decisions and have serious doubts about how successful his presidency will be, trust the man — and the wartime president. In large part because he knows he is a wartime president.

Mr. Bush has not treated these murky battles in Afghanistan and Iraq and around the world as some sideshow or distraction from the “real” Issues, but as part of the great struggle of our time. A struggle that will determine the kind of world we leave to our children and their children. A struggle we will not be able to talk our way out of, but must fight — and win.

This president may or may not have the right strategy for this war, but he knows he’s in one — not a criminal proceeding, not a police action, not U.N. Security Council meeting, but a war. And in war, as an American general once noted, there is no substitute for victory. And victory requires more than words.

What a difference between the first and second Inaugurals of this president — and not just because of the difference in the popular vote but because of September 11, 2001. If it did not change everything, it changed George W. Bush.

This country, as a wise president (John Quincy Adams) once pointed out, “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own.”

We have heard those words of wisdom regularly quoted in this great debate over the nature of the struggle in which the world is now engaged. They’re used to rebuke neoconservatives, by neo-isolationists. (Or would it be better to refer to them as multilateral isolationists?)

The question those words evade is: What should be America’s response when the monster goes abroad in search of us — as it did on September 11, 2001?

Though we scarcely realized it at the time, we were being hunted long before September 11. That was just the date, and event, that made the challenge no longer ignorable. This president has responded to it — and not just with words. That is what changed him, and us.

To quote the nation’s first Republican president, who would have been its last had he listened to his critics and responded to the crisis of his time only with words: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. … As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

When his critics call this president a radical, it does not strike some of us as criticism.

In this struggle, the American voters played their part Nov. 2. Whatever the wisdom of their decision, it was one that reflected the national will and a determination to sustain it.

The decisive front in this contest, not for the first time, will be the home front. That is where the national will is shaped and sustained — or not.

The televised scenes of the Inauguration showed still fresh snow covering the grounds of the Capitol. This country begins every administration in the depth of winter, and waits. By spring we should be able to see the lay of the land.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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