Editor’s Note: This interview appears in the Slovakian publication Tyzden.
TYZDEN: Is George Bush going to be one of the greatest presidents in American history? Why?
Michael Novak With his second inaugural address, President Bush made certain that his name will be identified with every movement of liberty and democracy around the world for the rest of this century. He said that it is now “the policy of the United States” to stand with those everywhere who long for and seek and sacrifice for liberty. He said specifically, “in every culture” and every region. If the “fire in the minds of men” is liberty, and that fire spreads among people in Iran and Egypt–however slowly–then 50 years from now men will look back and say that the man who first inspired that new turn in history was George W. Bush. His speech seemed very largely in tune with Natan Sharansky’s new book on democracy as the only real defense against terrorism. It is a noble vision for one nation to embrace–and all nations to embrace.
TYZDEN: Is Bush’s victory in the November election good news for the world?
Novak: Absolutely. I was thinking during the inauguration how painful it would have been to hear John Kerry as our new president. Bush gave an inaugural address that calls to mind the vision of Abraham Lincoln: It is without question the greatest presidential reflection since Lincoln on the meaning of liberty to the nature of the United States. Think of the number of nations around the world today that owe their liberty to the United States.
How awful it would be if the United States, under a new president, had withdrawn into isolation, yielding world leadership to the United Nations or the European Union. Don’t you agree that that would have been much less invigorating, much less profound, much less hopeful for the world than what Bush delivered? Besides, Bush will also lead the United States to reform some of its own basic institutions, such as old-age assistance and health care, on the new model of liberty, responsibility, and character.
TYZDEN: The new Bush agenda is commented upon as a new conservative revolution, comparable to Ronald Reagan’s. Is that a realistic view?
Novak: Not everybody sees that yet, but I think it’s true. Bush has the greatness of Reagan, and a boldness of vision that may be even larger–and he certainly has the benefit of the great gains our nation made because of Reagan’s actions. For instance, our economy is nearly one-third larger than it was when Reagan took office. Not only new businesses but entirely new industries have been launched, based on new technologies, such as biotechnology, cell phones, computers, the Internet, fiber optics, and many more. Given the steady electoral victories of Republicans in Congress, Bush can do some things that Reagan wanted to do, but could not, such as reform old-age assistance and medical care. And he can give American domestic policy a whole new vision, approach, and set of methods.
The “liberal” vision (of the Democrats) is actually a mild form of social democracy, making citizens dependent upon the state for various forms of aid and support. Critics call it “the liberal plantation.” Bush’s new vision is to make every citizen an owner, a person of character in charge of his or her own destiny, and responsible not only for his own needs but also for caring for his neighbor. Bush does not see the individual as lonely and selfish, but as a part of various communities (family, church, union, associations, etc.), compassionate toward the needy, and alert to the needs of the common good.
In his day, Abraham Lincoln called forth a “new birth of freedom,” meaning the end of slavery in the Southern states and a new beginning. Bush calls forth a “new birth of freedom” too, meaning in the whole world as an alternative to tyranny, and in America’s internal life in an end to a culture of dependency upon the state.
–Michael Novak, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and to the Bern Round of the Helsinki Talks, holds the George F. Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.