Friday, January 21, 2005

George W. Kennedy? Not quite. 

Slate's Fred Kaplan analyzes Bush's Inaugural address, and hears no sacrifice being asked of us.
The template, clearly, was John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, which began, "We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom" and went on, more famously, "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."

But George W. Bush is not John F. Kennedy and, more to the point, 2005 is not 1961. It is doubtful that even Kennedy's words—so flush with idealism at the time—would have come off so stirringly had they been written, say, eight years later, at the height of the Vietnam War. They would have raised questions, set off alarm bells. And so should Bush's paraphrasings in the middle of the present war in Iraq.

At least Kennedy made no bones of the fact that his crusade would carry a "price," impose a "burden," inflict "hardship," and continue to require sacrifice through (as he put it later in the speech) "a long, twilight struggle." Where in President Bush's speech was there any such recognition, any plea for all citizens to ask what they can do for their country? There was one sentence where he urged young Americans, "Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself." Just before this plea he saluted our soldiers, diplomats, and intelligence personnel. Was he suggesting these jobs—joining the military, the foreign service, or the CIA—comprise the full range of ways that we can (in JFK's words) ask what we can do for our country? For the rest of us, he offered not the slightest hint of a proposal. In fact, immediately after his urging, he linked the advancement of America's freedom with "the dignity and security of economic independence," and then segued into a promotion for the privatization of Social Security—hardly a notion that fits the broader theme of one-for-all and the-world-is-one.


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