- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

MEQUON, Wis. — President Bush yesterday urged nearly 500 graduates to “build a culture of life in America,” asserting that the Declaration of Independence defines life as “an endowment of the Creator.”

Delivering the commencement address at Concordia University, the largest Lutheran university in North America, the president acknowledged that the ethics of life have “always been a test of our democracy.” But he flatly stated that procedures such as cloning or the use of embryonic stem cells for the purpose of research are anathema to American ideals.

“Our standards must be high and clear and fixed. Life is not just a tool or a commodity or a means to other ends. Nothing good or just can be built on the destruction of others,” he said to applause.

Mr. Bush’s address followed Thursday night’s speech to the American Conservative Union, where Mr. Bush told the gathering that, “on the fundamental issues of our times, conservatives have been right.”

Taken together, the two speeches may help Mr. Bush quiet some of the rumbling among conservatives during the past few weeks that the president does not seem to have a unifying conservative message and has not been paying enough attention to conservatives’ issues.

In the most forward-looking speech he has delivered in weeks, Mr. Bush spoke passionately about the moral ideals of America.

“Many of us find that there is much more to life than getting and keeping. True fulfillment comes with the responsibilities we assume: To care for our families and to love a neighbor as we want to be loved ourselves. This is more than a familiar saying; it is the foundation of a meaningful life.”

But the president returned often to the ethic of life, not just the issue of abortion and embryonic research, but the morality necessary to live an enlightened and responsible life on Earth. In his 20-minute address, he acknowledged that mankind has always made mistakes, but has learned the hard lessons and moved on to better times.

“Our greatest failures as a nation have come when we lost sight of our compassionate ideals — in slavery, in segregation and in every wrong that has denied the value of life. Our greatest strength as a nation is that we bravely face our flaws and do our best to make things right.”

He urged the graduating class of 491 students to focus on America’s achievements and to strive to follow in the footsteps of mankind’s most inclusive thinkers.

“Our greatest successes as a nation have come when we broadened the circle of protection and inclusion. And this work is not finished. We will press on until every person shares in the promise of our country,” he said to the applause of more than 2,000 in the audience.

As he has in recent days, Mr. Bush spoke about his disgust over photographs showing U.S. troops mistreating Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

“In Iraq, the cruelty of a few has brought discredit to their uniform and embarrassment to our country. The consequences of their failures of character reach well beyond the walls of a prison,” he said.

The president got a standing ovation when he asserted that the “failures” of the few soldiers who mistreated Iraqi prisoners “cannot diminish the honor and achievement of more than 200,000 military personnel who have served in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Mr. Bush, who was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the university — he joked that he liked the sound of Dr. Bush, but added “I don’t think Laura is going to call me that” — spoke throughout about the power of faith and compassion. He urged the young graduates to look to their faith as they struggle through the hard work of living.

“You can fairly judge the character of society by how it treats the weak, the vulnerable, the most easily forgotten. Our own country, at its best, strives to be compassionate, and this isn’t easy. Compassion is not merely a vague feeling of empathy, it is a demanding virtue. It involves action and effort and deep conviction.”

Mr. Bush encouraged the graduates to get involved in every facet of their communities, reminding them that they can not look away from those struggling with addiction, or single mothers or parentless children. “Failures of love … must be answered with love,” he said.

He also touted his faith-based initiative, which encourages religious organizations to take leading roles in helping millions of less-fortunate Americans, as a necessary step toward improving America.

“Instead of ignoring or resenting religious charities and faith-based groups, this country will encourage these good works in every way we can,” he said.

But he repeatedly returned to the sanctity of life, including “those at the end of life.”

“Our worth as human beings does not depend on our health or productivity or independence or any other shifting value the world might apply. Our worth comes from bearing the image of our Maker,” Mr. Bush said.

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