For an inarticulate man of allegedly limited intellect, President Bush sure can communicate big ideas as effectively as anyone in the public arena. The 2005 State of the Union speech will endure in the national consciousness not for its rhetorical flourishes but for the power of core beliefs plainly and lovingly expressed - and of course for the unforgettable, spontaneous embrace between two women who symbolized the cost of liberation, the toll of tyranny, and the common love of freedom.
Bush's style is that he eschews style. He is all heartfelt substance and action in a town that still yearns for the artifice and empty talk of his predecessor. Tonight the camera captured how much he has grown and all his Senate opponents could do was groan.
Left-leaning commentators adore complex solutions to national issues because they think we are too stupid to comprehend "nuances" without their brilliant explanations. To their consternation, Bush has developed a rapport with the average American that circumvents the increasingly irrelevant old media establishment, not as deftly as President Reagan but in his own endearing way.
Bush is so transparently sincere in his convictions that those who still insist he is a mindless puppet to Karl Rove’s Rasputin misread him deliberately. He knows his own mind, his soul, his values and so we have come to know him, too. Unlike his predecessor, he is the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning. He is as authentic on February 2, 2005 as he was on February 2, 2001.
One of my favorite truisms is this:
If you don't model what you teach, you are teaching something else.
As leader of the compassionate conservative movement, Bush models compassion admirably but some of us wish he were equally devoted to serving the cause of conservatism. In the SOTU address, he formally presented the two anchors of his second term agenda, freedom (foreign policy) and ownership (domestic policy). I would prefer to think that Bush is expanding the role of the federal government during a transitional phase while weaning future generations off Social Security, but government encroachment is never temporary. He has a Reaganesque gift for inspiring optimism and pride. Unfortunately, some of the policy details may be rather more Clintonesque.
Bush has been confident, courageous, vigorous, unwavering and even articulate in his mission to spread freedom. He understands the capacity of freedom to transform and unite people across ethnic, religious and geopolitical borders. He stuck by every single one of his foreign policy initiatives in defiance of the most acrimonious, sanctimonious personal attacks of my lifetime. He redefined the title Leader of the Free World. You could even say he owns it.
Since his re-election, he appears to feel liberated from the constraints of electoral politics. Does that mean he will spend some of his hard-earned currency on the economic initiatives that foster freedom and personal responsibility with the potential to transform and unite our own citizens? Will he stick around to sell them to the American people? Will he stick it to the Senate obstructionists already pronouncing Social Security reform DOA?
Last night I saw none of the tentativeness that left his first term domestic policy to flounder. He seemed empowered. He sounded like a leader. His ideal of an ownership society is as visionary and crucial to our long-range security as the Middle East plan for freedom.
I hope Bush asserts his presidential command to advance both proposals without concessions that could sabotage his noble aspirations. He needs to model what he advocates. Success is within his reach. Now he must act as if he owns it.