Bush’s victimological view of America as seen in his first inaugural address
In his disgraceful speech in Senegal about American slavery, President Bush portrays America as under a permanent racial guilt. He essentially takes the liberal line that America can only be seen as a moral and legitimate country to the extent that it raises up blacks and makes them equal—and “equality,” if we are to take Bush’s recent statements on diversity as a guide, means that blacks must have guaranteed numerical equality of results in every area of life. Since that can never happen, America is condemned to permanent guilt and permanent racial blackmail. His Senegal speech therefore seems of a piece with his support for the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.
The speech also brought to mind Bush’s inaugural address. While regular conservatives were ecstatic about it at the time, I was appalled, as it portrayed America as a big collection of victims needing succor. So, in order to understand the mind of this liberal president whom conservatives adore, here is Bush’s inaugural along with the contemporaneous comments I wrote about it, bolded and bracketed throughout. My commentary may have something of an unfinished quality, but I am leaving it as is to provide the original flavor of my response. (See also my discussion of Bush’s Jacobinist second inaugural address.)
George W. Bush
Thank you all. Chief Justice Rehnquist, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, distinguished guests and my fellow citizens. The peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. [The old American myth: we still act as though we are the only country in the world with constitutional government, with the rest of the world residing in an eternal night of tyranny and superstition.] With a simple oath, we affirm old traditions and make new beginnings. As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation. And I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.
I am honored and humbled to stand here, where so many of America’s leaders have come before me, and so many will follow.
We have a place, all of us, in a long story, a story we continue, but whose end we will not see. It is the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old. The story of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom. The story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer. It is the American story, a story of flawed and fallible people, united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals.
The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise: that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born. Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws. And though our nation has sometimes halted, and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.
[Everyone belongs??? You mean, the whole world belongs in and to America? Everyone deserves a chance? Meaning, we have the obligation to everyone in the world to give them a chance? This is gobbledygook.]
Through much of the last century, America’s faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind [here’s he’s alluding to that ineffably silly line in his father’s inaugural—“freedom is a kite flying higher and higher”], taking root in many nations. Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. And even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.
While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise—even the justice—of our own country. [Are they justified in that doubt? Those are the same ranting extremists who insist that they were “stopped from voting” in Florida because of their race, without a shred of evidence to back it up. Do the “doubts” of such people deserve respect and solicitude?] The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools, and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. [What evidence is there that “hidden prejudice” is actually seriously preventing anyone in this country from realizing his ambitions? Bush simply accepts the left’s myth of ubiquitous racism holding blacks down. And what does it mean to say that a person’s ambitions are limited by the circumstances of his birth? You mean, if a person is very stupid, and has very stupid and disordered parents, that that will affect his circumstances? Yes, of course it will. But how is that a violation of America’s ideal to allow each person to try to realize his ambitions?] And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. [What differences? He’s implying that the divide is mutual. But it is Bush’s enemies who tried to steal an election, calling properly counted non-votes “uncounted votes” and saying that he deliberately “stopped the voting” so that he could win. It is Bush’s enemies who are calling him a racist. It is the nation’s number one black organization that linked him with a racial murder in an incendiary tv ad. Yet he is tacitly accepting the charge that he is responsible for dividing the country, and is therefore responsible for healing it.]
We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. I know this is in our reach, because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, who creates us equal in his image. And we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. [Oh, great, we have to hear the number-one neocon slogan in Bush’s inauguration.] We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.
America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.
Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because in a time of peace the stakes of our debates appear small. But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline, the vulnerable will suffer most.
We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment. [I take this as a genuine expression of Bush’s personality and approach.]
America at its best is also courageous. Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defeating common dangers defined our common good. Now we must chose if the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We must show courage in a time of blessing, by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations. [A whole paragraph on courage? What empty verbiage.]
Together, we will reclaim America’s schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans. We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.
The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake, America remains engaged in the world, by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.
America at its best is compassionate.
In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation’s promise. And whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at fault. Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God, they are failures of love. And the proliferation of prisons, however necessary, is no substitute for hope and order in our souls.
Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens; not problems, but priorities; and all of us are diminished when any are hopeless. [The whole thing is about our duty to help those in deep, persistent poverty—by which he’s really referring to poor blacks. But is there “deep persistent poverty” in this country? How many people are there without clothing food and shelter? That’s what poverty is. America’s blacks are the most prosperous in the world, yet none of that finds its way into his speech. He needs them as victims so as to assert America’s—and his—guilt.]
Government has great responsibilities, for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools. Yet compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor’s touch or a pastor’s prayer. [Gosh, he’s acting as if these “needs” and “hurts” and “deep persistent poverty” and “limited ambitions” are the biggest issues facing us; this whining constitutes almost his whole domestic agenda!] and Church and charity, synagogue and mosque, lend our communities their humanity and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws.
Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty. But we can listen to those who do. And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side. [How many people are in this “pain of poverty”? What in the world is he talking about?]
[He doesn’t realize how he’s setting up his own demonization by the left. He makes “deep poverty” and “limited ambitions” and all the rest of it the primary fact about America, and then all he proposes to do about it are testing schools and vouchers and volunteerism. His opponents can easily say he’s not doing anything serious to address these horrible problems that he has identified as the most important thing in the country (just as they can say, whenever he does something that makes his opponents unhappy, that he is violating his pledge to be a uniter not a divider). However, from the conservative point of view, the one welcome thing in the speech is that he really does not seem to be proposing government do anything about all this supposed poverty and misery and injustice. He’s just calling on everyone to be a kind of full-time freelance social-gospel worker.]
America at its best is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected. Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to conscience. And though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper fulfillment. We find the fullness of life, not only in options, but in commitments. And we find that children and community are the commitments that set us free.
Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom. [Once again, the image of America he presents is of this vast social welfare crisis that all of must walk around in looking to help the unfortunate. It is an liberal Episcopalian vision of America.]
Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone. [This totally feminized vision of everyone in America running around looking to help someone out is sickening.]
I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as well. In all these days—ways—I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times.
What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort, to defend needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: “We know the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?”
Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know: our nation’s grand story of courage, and its simple dream of dignity. We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.
Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today: to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.
This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.
God bless you all, and God bless America.
[Interesting allusion to the conclusion of Lincoln’s first inaugural: “the chorus of the Union will rise … when touched by the better angels of our nature.” But Lincoln, by contrast, was telling the seceders that they were wrong; wrong in their assumption that Lincoln had designs on their domestic institutions; wrong in their belief that secession was a right under the constitution and not an insurrectionary act. After he made that powerful argument, he called on the better angels of our nature; meaning, he was hoping that his foes and demonizers would hear those angels and drop their secession. Bush, by contrast, takes it as given that the people who “doubt the justice of our country”—i.e., the protesters in the street yelling “Hail to the thief”—are right to feel that way, and that it is his duty to show them that he “cares.”]
[Overall, he uses a Christian concept of higher truth to advance a social welfare view of America, a place where “caring for the unfortunate” is the number one job and the primary meaning of life. The Christian part appeals to conservatives, the social welfare part appeals to the left. I don’t like it at all.]