- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

President Bush’s second-term Inauguration sets the stage for what is shaping up to be an extraordinary, possibly historic, four years of reform at home and abroad.

Mr. Bush will summon America’s resolve in an address to the nation and the world that will appeal to our enduring strengths — optimism about the future; confidence in our abilities to overcome our many problems; and a can-do, entrepreneurial attitude that says, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

The president didn’t just defeat a gloomy Democratic rival last year, he defeated pessimism itself — appealing to our hopes and dreams. And that sunny outlook will be at the center of today’s Inaugural address and at the center of what he wants to do in his second term.

The overall mood of the country seems more positive, creating a perfect climate for the work ahead: The nation’s economic growth is purring along at 4 percent, employment is rising nicely, consumer confidence is up, people say they expect their financial situation to be better this year than it was last year.

Looming over this growing prosperity, though, is the troubling situation in Iraq and the struggle to build a democratic and peaceful nation in the middle of the world’s worst terrorist breeding ground. You wouldn’t know it by listening to the nightly news shows and their almost totally pessimistic reports on Iraq, but a large segment of Americans are optimistic about the likelihood of success there.

A poll by The Washington Post this week showed 58 percent of Americans believe the president and U.S. forces “will make progress” in Iraq in the next four years. An even stronger 70 percent majority says that about the larger war on terrorism.

Of course, some oppose our military mission in Iraq, saying we have no business doing it. But we have been liberating people and promoting democracy for many decades, when it’s in our national security interests, as in Europe, Korea, Eastern Europe in the Cold War, and now in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Bush’s unshakeable belief that liberty and democracy are the strongest weapons against tyranny — and that they will produce a much safer world — is persuasive, and American voters embraced it in the last election. If he succeeds, as he seems to be doing now, this will surely be his legacy.

His noon address on the Capitol’s West Front will expand upon the cause of liberty, an aspiration as old as human history, now at the center of America’s post-Cold War foreign policy.

Inaugurations are, first and foremost, a time for presidents to set America on a course to tackle big, seemingly intractable, challenges and summon the popular will to take them head-on.

This is not a time for programmatic details on how to get from here to there, but for big, bold, broad rhetorical strokes that will re-energize the country and lift it to higher prosperity and human attainment.

Mr. Bush’s list of unfinished business is not very long, but the problems he wants to solve are immense:

• Transform Social Security into a wealth-creating investment system based on tangible capital assets, individual ownership and a stake in the U.S. economy.

• Abolish an insanely complicated, costly tax code and make it as simple to comply as it is to send an e-mail or pay a bill.

• Slow growth of government to a more rational pace so we do not spend ourselves into ever-higher levels of debt but instead redirect our available resources, public and private, to our nation’s highest national priorities.

But there is more to presidential inaugurations than a course-setting for the nation. They are also a time for all Americans, after a bitter and often divisive election, to take a deep collective breath, to contemplate what a blessed land we live in where our political differences are settled at the ballot box and not with roadside bombs and beheadings, and to look forward to a fresh start in our country’s life.

Sure, we face great problems, with a deadly war against terrorism at the top of the list, but our greatest weapon is an all-American sense of optimism in our cause that we will prevail and the pessimists will always be wrong.

This is at the center of George W. Bush’s being, and will be at the center this Inauguration — a time to put politics aside momentarily and to feel good about our country and confident in the direction we’re headed.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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