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Presidential idealism possibly at odds with conservatism

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted January 24, 2005

Michael Newdow must have had his hands over his ears. The President mentioned God repeatedly in his second inaugural speech. The argument of Newdow and outfits such as the ACLU is that any mention of God constitutes the establishment of religion. Fortunately, the President and his speechwriters have read the Constitution and The Federalist Papers as its commentary.

George Bush understands that the Constitution meant to forbid the establishment of a state church such as was operative in Europe when that document was written. He understands the Constitution was never meant to separate God from government. Outside of his references to the Almighty, the speech was filled with references to freedom and liberty.

Bush reads his inaugural speech on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 20
Bush reads his inaugural speech on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 20

Let me say at the outset that I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly endorse the "ownership society" which would give Americans greater control over their own destiny. Liberals will fight this concept with everything that is left in them. That is because the "ownership society" runs absolutely contrary to what they have promoted for the past seventy years. They have followed the adage of one of FDR's advisors to "tax and tax, spend and spend and elect and elect." The "ownership society" would make voters less dependant on the liberals and would enable them to make decisions on their own. The beginning of that effort will be the establishment of individual retirement accounts for younger citizens. These accounts can use the markets to increase wealth.

I know a fellow who is near retirement. Some years ago he married a British citizen who has benefited from the privatization of social security established in the early 1980's by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His wife is also nearing retirement. Both governments send out a statement indicating what benefits will be available at retirement. The British citizen will receive three times what the American citizen will receive. So when the liberals whine about how risky it is to put a small amount of money into private accounts, the President and the rest of us ought to talk about Great Britain and Chile whose citizens benefit greatly from these private accounts.

The media is clamoring for the President to "reach out" to Democrats and to have "bi-partisanship" in governing. Fine. I'm sure the President will reach out to try to find those Democrats who are willing to consider the President's proposals. But if he is to truly expand freedom at home by establishing an "ownership society" he can't compromise very much. And his opposition understands that the "ownership society" is death to what they stand for. Prime Minister Tony Blair was a moderate within the Labor party. He had to move the party to the right and to promise not to reverse the Thatcher reforms before the voters agreed that Labor was ready for prime time.

Of course some will ask if the President is really concerned with liberty at home and why he is insisting on the expansion of the so-called USA PATRIOT Act. That issue will no doubt be taken up by the Congress later this year.

The real thrust of the President's speech had to do with freedom abroad. The President correctly observed that democratic nations which give liberty to their own people generally do not involve themselves in wars. Nations which oppress their own people have to look abroad to start trouble to keep the mind of the people off of their terrible internal conditions. Tyrants blame outside forces for their own failures. That having been said, one commentator said the President gave the best speech Woodrow Wilson ever wrote.

There is no way around it. When it comes to what the President had to say about America's mission in the world, the speech was Wilsonian. I applaud the President's devotion to liberty and democracy in the world. After many decades of having Presidents, except for Ronald Reagan who ignored tyranny, it is refreshing to have a President who acknowledges there is evil in the world.

Still, the speech seemed utopian. The United States simply cannot be the world's policeman. While the speech gave no details as to how it is we might go about bringing liberty to those nations who don't have it now, it is difficult to see how this can be done without the use of military force as we have done in Iraq. If there is a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in the next couple of years, it hasn't even been leaked. We may be in Iraq for years and years. Or if we do withdraw, we may soon get a government there that we don't care for.

While there is more freedom in the world today since the collapse of the Soviet empire, there are still many brutal regimes around the world -- Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba just to name a few. And some of those nations in South America which had become democracies, such as Brazil and Venezuela, seem to have voted in men who want to seize private property and take away guns from citizens as well as depriving them of free speech. What do we do when people freely choose a dictator and then, as in the case of Venezuela, affirm him in office? There are brutal dictators in Africa as well: Dictators who are guilty of genocide. Where do we begin and with what?

Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week the United States wants to deal with North Korea through diplomacy. You have in North Korea a tyrant who is starving his own people in order to maintain a highly disciplined military regime. Moreover this tyrant appears to be somewhat crazy. So how do we deal with him through diplomatic means? It sounds like a situation which will ultimately lead to military action. But neither we nor South Korea can possibly think of engaging in military action now. We are stretched so thin it is amazing some dictator hasn't moved to test us.

As is always said about such idealism: "The devil is in the details." We don't know how the President intends to have this country spread liberty throughout the world. Traditionally conservatives would contend that we should be a model for liberty at home and then by example and through trade and various exchanges we would be a beacon of freedom. It was always Democrats who were for starting wars. Now roles seem to be reversed, although liberals do not want this country to serve as a model of liberty at home. They would like us to be a model for a social democracy.

The President's idealism is admirable. If he can manage to translate that idealism into a means by which we serve as that shining city on a hill Ronald Reagan always spoke of, then he will have served the world well. If that idealism translates into all sorts of foreign entanglements, which George Washington warned against, then the world will be worse, not better off. The choice is still up to the President.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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