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President Bush’ Second Inaugural Address

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On a warmer-than-average day in early 2005, President George W. Bush gave his second inaugural address in front of the US Capitol and witnessed by thousands in person and perhaps millions around the world.  During this speech, President Bush discussed both his ideals as Chief Executive as well as his aims for his second term in office.  In reviews written days and weeks after the Inauguration, journalists wrote reviews that painted President Bush as both hero and villain.  In particular, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal and Tristram Hunt of Britain’s Guardian newspaper wrote reviews of this momentous speech that were critical of President Bush, but in differing ways.  Both editorialists speak to historical examples in their review of President Bush, but it is the difference in those examples that sets the reviews apart.

Using evident sarcasm, Tristram Hunt began his review of President Bush’ second inaugural address by describing its delivery as “messianic”.  His introductory paragraph then goes on to note that President Bush’ speech referenced “the history we have seen together”, but asserts the opinion that history further in the past than 2001 was playing a major role in current United States policy.  In his second inaugural address, the words Hunt quoted of President Bush were used to define the duties of his second term in the context of defending the borders of the United States as well as in helping to bring freedom throughout the world.  Focusing on a half century of history – the period of time middle aged Americans could be expected to remember, President Bush reminded the nation of the experience of communism the preceded years of relative peace throughout the world, before that peace was shattered in 2001 by the terrorist attacks on Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Hunt does not focus on those recent years in history, however, and instead writes much of his review based on history much farther back in the chronicles of America.  Hunt focuses the main points of his review on the legacies of our Founding Fathers as well as the prior conflicts the United States has engaged in, and the affect of those legacies on President Bush and his current foreign affairs strategies.  Hunt believes that current historians manipulatively portray the ideologies of the Founding Fathers as well as the lessons of previous conflicts in such a way as to show President Bush’ current actions in the War on Terror as just and defensible.  Critical of this perceived practice, Hunt said that the American “public is being fed self-serving affirmation: war-time schlock designed to underpin the unique calling, manifest destiny and selfless heroism of the US nation and, above all, its superhuman presidents”.  Hunt then goes on to state that this form of history being shown to the public fits perfectly with the aims and intents of President Bush.

In contrast, the words of President Bush’ speech affirm the affect of continuing history on the current day by stating that “from the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth”.  Hunt states that the past is aligned so as to support the present, but President Bush states that the present is aligned because of the lessons of the past.  While Hunt focuses his review on the influence of historians skewing historical perspective, fellow editorialist Peggy Noonan focuses her review on the overuse of God as a motivating factor.

Noonan states that “history is dynamic and changeable”.  In that way, she agrees momentarily with Hunt.  If history is indeed malleable, it can be reformed in such a way as to be manipulative, as Hunt asserts.  It is there that the two part ways, however.  Noonan is most critical when she states that she perceives President Bush’ second inaugural speech to be focused too much on foreign policy and not enough on domestic affairs.  A self-described “Bush supporter”, she goes on to say that she’s looking for nuances and finding none.  Instead of going on to describe what type of nuance she is seeking, she goes on to state that “this world is not heaven”, but that facets of President Bush’ inaugural address seem to be “God-drenched”, making too many religious allusions instead of historical.  While Hunt gives specific examples of how certain people and events from history are distorted to influence present perception and is therefore critical of the influence that may have on the President, Noonan is critical of the fact that the President did not make enough specific references within his speech and was therefore too abstract.  While Hunts believes there is too much focus on history – especially reformed history – Noonan seemingly would have been happier with more specific references to what has happened and what is now being done in response to that.

Near the end of his second inaugural address, President Bush deliberately used a historical allusion, stating that “When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, ‘It rang as if it meant something.’ In our time it means something still.”  He then concludes by stating that “we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom”.  While Hunt would undoubtedly argue that this is the manipulative fitting of history to the present, Noonan instead argued that this phrase was “over the top”.

Hunt, clearly antagonistic towards the President, and Noonan, a sometime supporter, have very different views on the role history should play and in their reactions to President Bush’ second inaugural speech.  It is interesting how they differ, and how the same words from the same speech are interpreted so differently.  As always, in the case of differing interpretations, the original text must be consulted for clarification, and in doing so, President Bush’ second inaugural speech will be viewed as historic, far reaching, and, perhaps, “God drenched”.


Bush, George W. Address. Presidential Inauguration. U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20 Jan. 2005. 21 Mar. 2007 <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050120-1.html>.

Hunt, Tristram. “Historians in Cahoots.” Editorial. The Guardian 16 Feb. 2005. 21 Mar. 2007 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1415471,00.html>.

Noonan, Peggy. “Way Too Much God.” Editorial. Wall Street Journal 21 Jan. 2005. 21 Mar. 2007 <http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110006184>.

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