Too rarely does a political speech bring about intellectual clarity on vital issues. President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night is an impressive example of focus. While one might reasonably differ on this or that policy question, the coherence of the President's view of politics, foreign and domestic, shines through, inspired as it is by the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The speech articulates the theory and practice of compassionate conservatism, and as such should be studied for years to come.
"The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity." Though made in reference to war with Iraq, this sentence unites Bush's domestic and foreign policy. Men are intended by God to be free. Whether speaking of tyranny at home, in the horrors of partial-birth abortions and human cloning, or a tyrant abroad, the fundamental issue is to bring about "a more welcoming society, a culture that values every life." We need to recall how "Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life." The seriousness of this commitment was evident in the President's praise of liberty-loving Iranians, inhabitants of a part of last year's "axis of evil." Iraqis, he emphasized, are being liberated, not conquered.
Following Abraham Lincoln before him, President Bush appears to be saying that the American Revolution could be said to arise in the soul of each and every human being. Consider his adopting the stance of a preacher: "The miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be you" (emphasis added, as delivered). The President was clearly alluding to his own recovery from alcohol abuse, which he regards as a miraculous gift from God. He regards his presidency as an opportunity to permit the blossoming of such miracles in the lives of his fellow citizens.
Thus, the "regime change" that his administration has called for involves not just Saddam, but a change in the hearts of Americans as well. (He repeats the venerable analogy between the soul and the political community of Plato's Republic.) When President Bush declares that "we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men; free people will set the course of history," he means this at home as well as abroad, within men's souls and between nations.
Students of The Federalist, will note the echoing of the first paper: "it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force." In more than fulfilling his constitutional obligation to address Congress, President Bush brought both them and the American people closer to its founding principles, in their hearts and in their nation.