An understanding of America from Bush

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

And so it begins.

With an inaugural speech of conciliation, humility and challenge George W. Bush formally accepted a new assignment in the remarkable journey that has taken him from senator's grandson to president's son to president and commander-in-chief.

If his remarks lacked the evocative spirit and memorable sound bites of John F. Kennedy 40 years earlier, they nevertheless offered comfort, hope and more.

For all of the pomp and power that accompany the presidency, Mr. Bush found himself in an awkward position Saturday. He stood in the spotlight, speaking to tens of millions of people, while to his left sat the opponent who had won more votes from their fellow Americans. Mr. Bush cleared the hurdle, neither apologizing for nor exhulting in his victory. He thanked former Vice President Gore for his role in "a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace."

Mr. Bush then began to establish his own presidential identity. To do so, he first relied on history, saying America's story is "the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old .... of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom ... of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer."

Then, whether a gift from his speechwriters or a product of his own intellect, Mr. Bush referred to the idealism that still offers inspiration two and a quarter centuries after fueling our independence.

"The grandest of these ideals," he said, "is an unfolding American promise: that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born."

With these words, perhaps more than any others, Mr. Bush said he understands America, what is constant and what has not yet been fulfilled.

Wherever it is going, however distinguished the journey to date, the United States of America has not arrived until it delivers on what Mr. Bush called the "American promise." Just as the price of freedom is constant vigilance, so, too, does equal opportunity require the indefatigable efforts of government and society.

Mr. Bush reminded us that the American ideal transcends every political party.

He promised to live and to lead by advancing his convictions with civility; by pursuing the public interest with courage; by speaking out for greater justice and compassion; and by calling for responsibility among the citizenry.

"In all these ways," he pledged, "I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times."

Not quite a sound bite for the ages, but a solid beginning.

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