The word "freedom" is used in many contexts, including an inaugural address.
Kris Kristofferson mocked it, writing and singing from the perspective of a poor man who owned nothing: "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose."
For much of America's history, we have been a politically bipolar people, first desiring isolation from the world's problems, then by necessity intervening in them, followed by retreating to our former isolationist selves.
In a world that has gone global, we no longer have a choice. If we don't export freedom, we risk importing the viruses which have corrupted other nations.
In a June 8, 1982, address to the British House of Commons, President Ronald Reagan said, "Let us ask ourselves, 'What kind of people do we think we are?' And let us answer, 'Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.'" Reagan went further: "Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best -- a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny."
In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy said, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it." He added, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." And, perhaps most famously of all, "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 the success of liberty."
Given that history -- and a lot more -- President George W. Bush was well within the mainstream of those leaders who share his democratic values and vision when he said in his second inaugural address: "There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom. 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."
In countries dominated by dictators, those words are encouraging hearts yearning to breathe free. From women in Saudi Arabia who live under an oppression so intense they cannot drive cars and lack marital and parental rights equal to men, to the young Iranian revolutionaries intent on replacing the mullahs with an elected government, to brave freedom advocates in China, the remarks by President Bush surely are being repeated by word of mouth, by e-mail and on paper, letting those now deprived of freedom know they have an advocate in the United States of America.
Some critics complained that President Bush was arrogant when he suggested America can and should export freedom to other countries. This implies the people of unfree countries may not wish to be free. Which is the greater arrogance?
In speaking so boldly of freedom, not only as America's right and its best defense, President Bush was in line with Reagan, who said, "While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our convictions that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings."
By boldly embracing freedom as his second term theme, President Bush stands in some pretty good company.
Tribune Media Services