Bush's 2nd Inaugural speech

Before I look at anything Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address, I agree with DailyKos.com that this, from Vice-President Cheney, is vastly more important, by several orders of magnitude:

Cheney, interviewed hours before he was to take the oath of office for his second term, also said that Iran now tops the list of "the world's potential trouble spots." Iran is pursuing "a fairly robust nuclear program" and has a history of sponsoring terrorism, he said. "That combination is of great concern." Cheney said the Bush administration might seek U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program if necessary. The administration prefers to address the problem with diplomacy and doesn't want more war in the Middle East, he said. (emphasis mine)

On the bus, as I was getting passengers to fill out the muster sheet that we'd check off returnees with and that ANSWER could also use for mailing list purposes, I half-jokingly asked if Iran or Syria would be next on the Bush Administration's hit list. Sadly, it appears like they guessed correctly that Iran would be next.

As to Bush's speech, it was a very nice speech. Very stirring and dramatic words. It reminded me a great deal of being back in the Navy. A few years before I joined the Navy, I read a book where John Stockwell, a fellow who struck me as a good and competent administrator, attempted to direct CIA assets in Angola (The whole operation fell apart when the Soviets and Cubans intervened in force and the US, still smarting from the loss of Vietnam, dropped out of the struggle). Stockwell's idea of how to run the US effort in Angola was to sit down and answer lengthy telegrams from the field that were requesting specific answers or guidance.

On my first ship, I had an officer who ran my workgroup with lots of vague, general words about ultimate goals. I once overheard him talking about his “vision” for the office where he talked to some sailors from the Repair Department (who were going to work to design our office to his specifications). He essentially wanted our at-sea office to look like a dry-land (or shore-command) office, with equipment stacked up just so. In the meantime, the workgroup had severe disciplinary problems with young Seamen and junior Petty Officers not obeying orders and not cooperating with their seniors.

In the first instance, the Angola operation failed because of decisions and events wholly outside of the Stockwell's control and I felt after reading the book that Stockwell handled it about as well as it could have been handled. In the second, the officer who ran my workgroup ended up disgusting his superiors with his incompetence, losing his projected next assignment to a prestigious staff position and was assigned to another, smaller ship.

Bush's speech falls into the category of my officer's approach to running my workgroup. It was very vague and general and ignored numerous real-world, real-life problems.

A conservative points that the neoconservatives who have been running Bush's policies over the last four years

are not entirely conservative and confuse the public about the virtues of the hallowed native reluctance to spend blood and treasure abroad for dubiously idealistic purposes.

The conservative then attempts to distance Bush from the neoconservatives by commenting on “conspiracy thoeries” in which

...clever abolitionists from their New England pulpits and snooty colleges saw Lincoln as a suitable and naïve emissary of their radical agenda.

I'm not so sure that the picture is entirely wrong here as Lincoln did indeed end up endorsing the radical abolitionist agenda pretty wholeheartedly. I would quibble with the picture of Lincoln as being naïve and frankly, having been raised in New England, I of course don't see the radical abolitionist agenda as having been a bad thing.

In this case of course, Bush is pushing a radical, but stupid, agenda which has produced nothing but disaster and promises nothing but more of the same.

Peggy Noonan delivers a reasonably good piece in which she begins by engaging in her usual chirpy, good-news, golly-gee-isn't-everything-just-so-wonderful? tone that's made a reliable laugh line out of “Deep Thoughts: by Peggy Noonan”. But she also makes the good point that:

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

Peggy then defines the conflict over foreign policy as being between “moralists and realists”, but as my group doesn't recognize Bush as either moral or realistic, we don't regard this as a real debating point. The following, however, is an extremely good point, that Bush spoke

...in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.

The administration's approach to history is at odds with what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the "reality-based community." A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.

This world is not heaven.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him.

God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul."


Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.

In short, Bush needs to reconnect to Earth and get has feet back on the ground.

UPDATE (28Jan05): To recap, Peggy Noonan says "George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic..." Well, guess not. Less than a week later comes the headline to an editorial: "After Bold Speech Comes Furious Backpedaling". In other words "Oh...um...never mind."

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