With an eye toward history and his uncertain place in it, President Bush today will deliver a relatively short -- but distinctly idealistic -- inaugural address about America's calling to spread liberty, democracy and personal freedom around the world, according to White House officials.
In a speech that runs 1,800 words long and should take just over 16 minutes to deliver, Bush will outline a "philosophically ambitious" belief in the United States' obligation to help nurture democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the world, and to empower people back home, said a White House strategist not authorized to speak on the record. The speech provides "a window into the president's view of the world" and strives to remind Americans that they are living in a "history-shaping moment," the adviser added.
According to excerpts released last night by the White House, the president will say: "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."
The speech -- written largely by Bush's lyrical speechwriter, Michael Gerson -- sticks largely to broad themes and high ideals designed to set the stage for a more detailed delineation of Bush's second-term agenda in the Feb. 2 State of the Union address. In between the two speeches, the Iraqis plan to hold their first-ever elections, for a 275-member parliament, on Jan. 30 -- an event that in ways both symbolic and substantive tethers Bush's vision of history to the realities shaping his presidency.
The president hopes to offer his clearest explanation yet of what aides call the "Bush doctrine of spreading liberty." More broadly, some in the White House see the speech as part of a larger effort to co-opt the concept of political idealism once championed by liberals such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
"America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home -- the unfinished work of American freedom," Bush will say, according to the excerpts. "In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty."
Following the suggestion of David McCullough, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams, Bush prepared for his speech yesterday by touring the National Archives to view George Washington's handwritten 1789 inaugural address, as well as original versions of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Bush told reporters he was "absolutely" feeling the history of the moment, as he got ready for his second and final inaugural address in a cold and snowy Washington.
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, Bush said: "I'm going to be able to absorb a lot more of the sights, sounds, the drama this time; I think last time I was in awe of the whole moment."
Aides said Bush talked privately about the "significance of this moment in our history" in remarks to inauguration organizers.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, transformed Bush from a president focused mostly on domestic policies and politics into a wartime leader who privately tells friends that history will judge him many decades from now on the success or failure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader fight for freedom in the world.
The president began working on his speech shortly after the election, huddling with Gerson and Dan Bartlett, who has been promoted from communications adviser to counselor to the president, to sketch out a framework. Bush saw an outline shortly before Christmas, received his first draft in early January and has reviewed at least 20 revised versions since. Bush has practiced the address numerous times in the family theater at the White House, tightening it a bit along the way.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the speech is about "the importance of advancing freedom, for achieving peace abroad and security at home." While it will be light on specifics for the domestic agenda, McClellan said, Bush will promote his vision of an "ownership society," in which Americans enjoy greater freedom by owning homes and investments and having greater control over their retirement, in large part through a restructuring of Social Security.
Bush's plan to create what he calls an ownership society faces stiff opposition in Congress, not just among Democrats but also among a growing number of Republicans who are wary of carving private Social Security accounts out of the 70-year-old federal retirement and disability program. An even more difficult challenge, which the president acknowledges, is his goal to establish democracies in such places as Iraq. Still, McClellan said, Bush will express great optimism in America's ability to spread "the ideals and values we cherish and hold dearly."
Staff writer David Von Drehle contributed to this report.