EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the February 14, 2005, issue of National Review.
President Bush’s second inaugural address, whatever else you think of it, was interesting. We are debating what it meant, and we will be debating the questions it raised for some time. President Clinton’s second inaugural address, in contrast, was forgotten as soon as it was delivered. The most memorable line of that speech held that “nothing big ever came from being small.” That comment itself was evidence of smallness–whether of the man or the times or both, I will leave for others to decide.
The president’s idealist critics, often liberals, fault Bush for hypocrisy. He spoke about promoting freedom around the world, they say, but he has acquiesced in repressive behavior when he considered it in America’s interests. Bush’s conservative critics, notably Peggy Noonan, fault him for rhetorical “inebriation” and utopianism. The universal freedom to which Bush aspires, they say, will not be reached this side of Heaven.
These critiques seem to come from opposite directions: Bush is doing too little to spread freedom, or threatening to do too much. What these critiques have in common is the view that if Bush takes his vaunted ideals seriously, he will have to sacrifice American national interests to serve them…
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