RALEIGH – I’ll admit to some trepidation about the president’s first State of the Union address. The advance publicity had promised that Bush would weave together a number of policy issues under the broad theme of “security.” My problem with this idea, sound in theory, is that it has already been tried – by Bill Clinton, in his first State of the Union address in 1994.
Remember when Clinton held up his proposed “Health Security Card,” grinned broadly, and promised a federal government takeover of one-seventh of the nation’s economy (okay, so he didn’t use those exact words, but you know what I mean). Selling big government under the banner of offering American security is the old trap that Ben Franklin warned us about, by saying that those who would give up freedom for security deserve neither.
So I was wary. And, sure enough, President Bush did talk not just about national security but about economic security. Still, the speech didn’t devolve into a Clinton-style laundry list of costly new promises. There was a little tinge of busy-bodiness in the middle, but the beginning and end of Bush’s speech was perhaps the most ideological, dare I say even libertarian, major address by an American President in more than a century.
Bush uttered the words “freedom” and “liberty” many more times than he used the problematic “security.” He extolled private individuals and voluntary action. He took credit for reducing taxes, made the correct moral argument for doing so (it’s the people’s money, not the government’s), and pushed for more tax relief.
He poked his finger in the eye of the relativists, the academic ignoramuses, and others who resist the notion that there is good and evil in the world, rather than just perspectives, texts, and socially constructed realities. He referred to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil,” surely one of the memorable turns of phrase in the speech.
In an excellent passage towards the end, the president said that while America did not seek to impose its culture on others, it would insist on seven “non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance.
“No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them,” Bush said.
This is great stuff, not just unobjectionable but truly worth celebrating. To stress, among others, limits on the power of the state and private property is to reaffirm free-market capitalism as one of the building blocks of a civilized state. He did so knowing that the speech was being broadcast worldwide, including on the noxious Al-Jazeera. Only Ronald Reagan in recent memory would have done the same.
Finally, I loved Bush’s line about how 9/11 had changed America’s culture. He said that we had swapped the ethic of “do whatever feels good” for “let’s roll.” That was cool – and profound.
For such pearls, I can swim past a lot of murky stuff about new regulations and federal education bills. George W. Bush proved that his presidency isn’t just about ensuring security. It’s about protecting and expanding our freedom.
Oh, and one more thing. He finished his speech on time, giving me the freedom to watch my required Star Trek episode at 10 p.m. Does the munificence ever stop?