President Bush's Inaugural Address was the best speech of his life. He sought to stir what is best in the hearts of every American. The speech lacked hubris, but exhibited humility. It acknowledged flaws in individuals, but lauded our national character.
And it elevated eternal principles in a way that did not judge the administration just passed, but transcended parties and politics to stir the possibilities for success, contentment and hope that are in each of us.
He spoke of civility, which Bush said he intends to practice, calling it "not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos."
President Bush has repeatedly spoken of unity, but unity's definition shows the difficulty he will have bringing it about: "the quality or state of not being multiple."
Contemporary Americans, perhaps more than at any time in a century, are multiple political personalities. We ask government to do too much and complain when it accomplishes too little. We project on government responsibilities that should first be our own and lament the loss of community. The president spoke to this when he said, "Compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer." Bush again pledged that religious leaders and organizations "will have an honored place in our plans and laws."
President Bush has a unique opportunity to do something few presidents before him have been able to do. He just might be able to change the wind direction in Washington. For more than six decades, the wind has been blowing from the nation's capital toward the rest of the country. Programs and policies that have originated here are steeped in the arrogance that Wash-ington knows best. The bloated government and record spending with debatable results are ample testimony to the abject poverty of Washing-ton-think.
What Bush should, and I believe will do, is focus less on programs and more on people; less on politics and more on results. He will start this week with his education proposals, which are designed to put children and what they learn ahead of teachers unions and the political power they covet. What children know at the end of their formal education ought to be fundamental, not the amount of money spent or the number of union members who are pleased.
For too long we have misplaced our priorities, emphasizing everything but schoolchildren and test scores have shown how much we have failed.
In the area of race, Bush can relegate the tired old civil rights establishment to the back burner and start elevating to prominence black pastors who have real churches and minority entrepreneurs and political leaders who have resumes detailing their actual accomplishments. The so-called "civil rights establishment" has not been ordained or elected by anyone to dictate to this president.
How about a new generation of black leaders with a track record of really helping people, instead of the bunch we have had to contend with, which is mostly interested in helping themselves to the goodies at the political trough?
Rather than wasting energy battling those in Congress and in the media who will disagree with him (which allows his opponents to claim theirs is the only standard by which all ideas should be measured), Bush should repeatedly feature flesh-and-blood evidence showing why his ideas work. People who have benefited from tax cuts and education choice and life-giving reproductive choice should be regularly and constantly put before the public, so their stories might be heard and people convinced that what the President is doing is right and good. He can invite conservative and moderate Democrats to join him, isolating the party's decrepit liberal wing.
When political power and prestige are at stake, don't look for liberal Democrats to go gently into political hibernation. They will haul out all the old canards, from racism, to insensitivity, to "helping the wealthy at the expense of the poor." Bush should refuse to play that game. Instead, he should announce new rules and start playing by them in order to achieve a more perfect union, out of which might come at least some of the unity he and others desire.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services. Write to him at: Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, Ill. 60611.
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