TCS Daily


Divine Inspiration

By Duane D. Freese - January 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Whom should President George W. Bush turn to for inspiration for his Second Inaugural Address?

As a president dealing with a nation divided over the war in Iraq, he might turn to those sentiments expressed so eloquently by President Abraham Lincoln at the conclusion of his Second Inaugural:

        "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right 
        as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work 
        we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have 
        borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may 
        achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with 
        all nations."

Only at the time Lincoln spoke, he knew the Civil War after a bloody four years of fighting was nearly won. Ulysses S. Grant had boxed in Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in Richmond, while Union forces under William Tecumseh Sherman were corralling the Rebel forces under Joe Johnston in the Carolinas.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and captured, but insurgencies led by his Ba'athist followers and by Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi continue to challenge American resolve, with their violent actions spawning opposition to a continued U.S. presence in Iraq both here and abroad. The Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 hold the key to how soon the U.S. may leave - the more enthusiastic the response of the Iraqi people to democracy, the better able they will be to quell the insurgency within. But even then, U.S. support will be required for some time to come.

So, in the face of that challenge, perhaps he might call upon the memory of President John F. Kennedy from his Inaugural Address on Jan. 20, 1961:

        "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."

Only the problem with that is that one primary action Kennedy took to demonstrate that resolve was to increase the U.S. presence in Vietnam, tripling U.S. aid to South Vietnam and adviser strength from 700 to 16,000. And Vietnam continues to be a rallying cry of anti-war activists and its specter continues to be raised by many Democrats as a reason to do nothing that commits U.S. troops anywhere except in peacekeeping roles or where victory is assured.

At Tuesday's confirmation hearing in the Senate for Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, Barbara Box made clear that the Bush administration can expect mostly vitriol from her corner, and John Kerry a continued refrain that he has better policies. Mostly, the Democratic senators attempted to force from Rice an admission that the war in Iraq was a mistake - and then being upset when she only admitted that mistakes were made but the war was not.

Besides, Kennedy's statement, while tempered b his personal experience in war, wasn't tempered by experience in ordering men into battle as Lincoln's was.

That can change a person. It certainly changed the tone of Franklin D. Roosevelt between his Third and Fourth Inaugurals.

In his Third Inaugural Address 10-1/2 months before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt sounded much like Kennedy did 10 years later:

        "We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, 
        we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God. In the 
        face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to 
        protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster 
        the spirit of America, and the faith of America. We do not retreat. We are 
        not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service 
        of our country, by the will of God."

In his Fourth Inaugural Address four years later, he sounded less bold. He talked of lessons from the war deserving attention from today's Democrats as well as Republicans:

        "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well 
        being is dependent upon the well-being of other nations, far away. 
        We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as 
        dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members 
        of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson 
        said, that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."

And then he concluded in a tone reminiscent of Lincoln:

        "God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout 
        hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom 
        and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope 
        of all peoples in an anguished world. So we pray to Him now for the vision 
        to see our way clearly; to see the way that leads to a better life for 
        ourselves and for all our fellow men; to the achievement of His will to 
        peace on earth."

Again, though, like Lincoln, Roosevelt knew his war was won. But like Lincoln, he would never have the opportunity to put in place his hopes for a more peaceful world. Just two days shy of four score years after Lincoln's assassination by a malicious, uncharitable John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 - just five days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox and three before Johnston surrendered at Raleigh - Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Hot Springs.

So, who should Bush look to for inspiration? Well, maybe, not any previous president.

After all, the one president who did hardly provides a hopeful example. On Jan. 20, 1973, Richard M. Nixon noted in his Second Inaugural:

        "As I stand in this place, so hallowed by history, I think of others who have 
        stood here before me. I think of the dreams they had for America, 
        and I think of how each recognized that he needed help far beyond 
        himself in order to make those dreams come true. Today, I ask your 
        prayers that in the years ahead I may have God's help in making decisions 
        that are right for America, and I pray for your help so that together 
        we may be worthy of our challenge. ... Let us go forward from here 
        confident in hope, strong in our faith in one another, sustained by our faith 
        in God who created us, and striving always to serve His purpose."

Less than 19 months later, on Aug. 9, 1974, he resigned as a result of the scandals of Watergate.

Indeed, the fate of American presidents who've faced the trying tasks of leading our nation in times of war is uniformly dismal. Lincoln assassinated; William McKinley, president for the Spanish-American War in 1898, assassinated in 1901; Woodrow Wilson incapacitated in his final year, Roosevelt dying in office, Kennedy assassinated, Lyndon Johnson declined to seek a new term, Nixon resigned and George H.W. Bush defeated in his re-election bid after victory in the Gulf War. Only Harry S Truman, president at the time of the Korean War, left office peaceably and without taint, though the war itself didn't end until seven months after he left the Oval Office.

So, the question may not be so much what President Bush may say to inspire us, but rather what we may say and do to inspire him.

Considering the history that has stalked past presidents and the current atmosphere among Democrats stalking this one, all I can say is: "Let us pray."

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