Inauguration Analysis: Newspapers' Instant Takes

By: E&P Staff Highlights from this afternoon's instant analysis of President Bush's second inaugural address:

James Gerstenzang, the Los Angeles Times:

"The request for political civility that was woven throughout the president's inaugural speech four years ago to a deeply divided nation yielded today to an aura of confidence. It portrayed a president governing a nation no less divided but now faced with fears of terrorism at home, a war abroad, and a renewed presidential sense of mission to spread its political values to distant corners. ...

"Today, Bush set out to place the 21st century United States in the context of its role in the world: The guardian of freedom, living under a moral obligation to advance its ideals to all. And throughout it, too, was woven a deep religious fervor, delivered in evangelical tenor. ...

"Reflecting a certitude that has marked his public career -- a view of the world in black and white absolutes -- Bush declared: 'We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.'"

William Neikirk, the Chicago Tribune:

"[H]is 21-minute speech contained an unspoken reality: Easy to say, harder to do.

"Though his high-minded principles sounded an optimistic note, the president spent little time dwelling on the difficulties -- including political ones -- that stand in the way of their implementation.

"He gave no guidelines how his call for worldwide democratic reform could be turned into action, particularly as it applies to such countries as Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and other important nations where freedom is limited.

"There was only a veiled reference to simmering divisions between the U.S. and its allies over the Iraqi conflict -- and Bush took no responsibility for these divisions. ...

Even as Bush said he would "strive in good faith to heal" divisions at home, he stuck with his controversial agenda of creating an 'ownership society' in which Social Security would be partially privatized. That plan would also call for the private sector to have a greater stake in expanding health care and promoting retirement savings.

"Bush made no specific appeal to his opponents to end the partisanship that has plagued American politics and often stymied congressional action during his tenure as president. He only noted that 'divisions do not define America,' especially since the country unified after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks."

Ron Fournier, The Associated Press:

"Not a word on Iraq. President Bush?s inaugural address contained 2,000 words of passion and promise for his second term, but no direct mention of the war that could sink it.

"The conflict in Iraq, win or lose, could define his presidency. Bush knows this as well as anyone, which explains his strategic omission."

"As he swore the oath for a second time, U.S. casualty totals in Iraq stood at more than 1,360 dead and 10,500 wounded. The war already cost $100 billion, with a pricetag running at more than $1 billion a week.

"A majority of Americans say the conflict is not worth the cost in lives and money, polls show, though they seem willing to give the president time to stabilize Iraq."

David Stout and John O'Neil, The New York Times:

"The president did not mention the date of Sept. 11, 2001, but there was no mistaking his allusion to 'a day of fire' that dashed any complacency that followed the defeat of communism. 'My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats,' he said. 'Some have unwisely chosen to test America's resolve, and have found it firm.'

"Mr. Bush sought, too, to bolster relationships with longtime allies who have been dismayed at what they see as a go-it-alone attitude in Washington, particularly in Iraq."

Robert G. Kaiser, chat:

"We saw again today, I thought, how good President Bush's speechwriters are. These are wordsmiths of the first rank. It was a lovely speech.

"But what did it mean? I confess to feeling there's something of a contradiction between his ringing endorsement of freedom everywhere and his administration's dependence on some of the ugliest, least free governments in Asia and the Middle East to prosecute the war on terrorism. If, as Bush said today, 'it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture,' what about Egypt? Pakistan? Uzbekistan? Kazakhstan? Saudi Arabia? None of these is remotely free, yet the Bush administration never criticizes or pressures them in any visible way. How can the imprisoned dissidents in all those countries possibly take the President's words seriously?

"I re-read Bush's first Inaugural Address this morning, and there is a striking consistency between that speech and today's. They are obviously written by the same fine writers, and they express the same broad (and uncontroversial) sentiments in favor of freedom abroad and more justice at home. Does that portend a second term similar to the first? I doubt it. I think we're in for discontinuity somehow, though I can't today predict how. In my lifetime, only Eisenhower had a second term similar to the first. The odds are against it."


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