In his first inaugural address four years ago, President Bush pledged to "work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. ... Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character."
Coming off an election campaign in which he showed little patience for nation-builders, President Bush made scant reference to international affairs. His statements that "we will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge" and "we will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors," were exceptions in an address that was about the new president's vision of the future for America and Americans.
The second inaugural address delivered yesterday demonstrated how much the world, the country and the president have changed in four years. The impetus for that change, of course, were the deadly events of Sept. 11, 2001.
President Bush was a little grayer and appeared much more at easy as he delivered his second inaugural address.
"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world," the president declared to strong applause.
He never said the word Iraq, but through his rhetoric, he effectively tied to that troubled land whether his second term will be considered a success or a failure. It was a bold move, an act of courage and conviction that even his detractors had to admire.
Message to the world
"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies," Bush stated.
And while he never used the words China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Russia, again, his intent was clear. And again, he set the bar high for Americans to judge the success or failure of his foreign policy and his second term.
On the domestic front, Bush suggested redefinition of the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights in terms of an ownership society. "By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal," he said.
A world made free through the spread of democracy; Americans made more free through ownership.
A less confident president may have been reluctant to tie his legacy -- again, a word unused Thursday -- to such concepts. But President Bush did. Now, the challenge will be to deliver the vision he placed before the nation.