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HOW HE SEES IT A message to rival Reagan's or JFK's



Published: Mon, January 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By PETER A. BROWN

ORLANDO SENTINEL

George W. Bush may not rival John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan as a speaker, but the similarity of ideas could make him a plagiarist.

Obviously, we are in a new century and a far different world than 1961 and 1981, when JFK and Reagan, respectively, took the helm of leadership.

But the values that resonated from their messages were firmly stamped on Bush's second inaugural address, even if Ted Kennedy might not like the comparison. After all, JFK took office at a time when Democrats ran as tougher on defense than did Republicans.

They may have been talking about freedom's role in defeating the Soviet Union and communism while Bush is focused on the threat of Muslim extremism, but the tone and mentality were eerily similar.

And Bush's message -- that during the next four years, the United States would base its treatment of nations on their willingness to offer freedom to their citizens -- went further than either Kennedy or Reagan. They gave a pass to friendly dictators who sided with America in the Cold War.

So, too, Bush's acknowledgement of a truism that has come to the fore in a shrinking world:

"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty on 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."

Similar message

Bush's general tone could have been lifted from JFK's memorable speech 44 years ago, to the day, so similar was the message.

"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. ... No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave," Bush said.

JFK put it this way: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."

Like Reagan, who often presented America's conflict with the Soviet Union as a matter of good vs. evil, Bush said the U.S. treatment of foreign nations would be based on "the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."

But Bush went further by proclaiming, "We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people."

And, like the Gipper, whose presidency Bush's seems to emulate more than even his own father's, W. was blunt. Addressing the Muslim world, where democracy is often nonexistent, he pointedly spoke of the treatment of women, saying, "America will not pretend ... women welcome humiliation and servitude."

Reagan's rhetoric

Showing no inclination to shirk from his first-term policy of confrontation when necessary, he followed Reagan's example of promoting hope among those behind the Iron Curtain two decades ago. After the Berlin Wall fell, Soviet-era dissidents spoke openly about how Reagan's rhetoric sustained them.

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness know: The United Starts will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," said Bush.

Even the acknowledgement from Bush that "America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and find their own way," was a modern-day version of JFK's pledge: "We shall not always expect them (other nations) to support our view. But we shall always hope to find them supporting their own freedom."

The similarity with Kennedy's inaugural address was so distinct that Bush even had his own version of JFK's most memorable line: "My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

Bush's version:

"Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself -- and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character."

Bush's delivery of his inaugural address was better than usual, but it will be his ideas about freedom -- a 21st-century version of JFK's and Reagan's -- for which he'll be remembered.

X Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune.




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