January 23, 2005

Balancing Act


While there were good ideas in President Bush's second inaugural address, as is often the case with Bush, many of the good ideas were undermined by bad ones. I got the impression that Bush hoped to balance the ideas that might be viewed as "harsh" (personal economic independence, control of one's own destiny, ending tyranny) with ideas that that might be viewed as "compassionate" (service to others and a greater cause, helping other countries achieve democracy).

In the Jan. 20 edition of TIA Daily, Robert Tracinski provided a good analysis of the philosophical contradictions: Altruism vs. Liberty at the Inauguration.

The good part of the "Forward Strategy of Freedom" is Bush's recognition of the connection between tyranny and war. Nations that murder and enslave their own citizens always seek to export those evils outside their own borders. So it is true that America's long-term interests come from the spread of liberty across the globe.

But the primary problem with Bush's theory is that he regards liberty as a causeless "yearning of the human heart" implanted there by God, which therefore requires no intellectual or cultural foundation. Notice that in Bush's speech the lack of freedom is regarded as the "deepest source" of terrorism -- while "ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder" are regarded as mere by-products, as movements that opportunistically  take advantage of the "simmering resentment" caused by tyranny.

And so, for example, Bush believes that deposing Saddam's regime and holding elections is all that is required to promote the spread of liberty in the Middle East. No Western institutions or ideas are needed -- and indeed, he says later in the speech, "America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way." That is the root of everything that is wrong with his administration's management of the occupation of Iraq.

But Bush's "compassionate" ideas did nothing to forestall fears that his speech signaled a new aggressiveness in ending foreign tyranny. The administration, and even Bush's father, felt compelled to reassure critics that we would maintain the status quo. (Joe Gandelman has more.) And that is too bad, because it is exactly a new aggressiveness that is needed.

On domestic issues, particularly in regard to Bush's Social Security reform, the contradictions were more glaring. Tracinski wrote:

The "broader definition of liberty" endorsed by Bush is the same view of freedom promulgated by Franklin Roosevelt, complete with the worst of Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms": "freedom from want." Bush explicitly endorsed the welfare-statist view that freedom means a social guarantee of prosperity, to be provided by the state.

Thus, in proposing a semi-privatization of Social Security, Bush is not promising to lift the heavy hand of government out of our lives and reverse the disastrous legacy of the New Deal welfare state. No, he presents his reforms as a continuation and extension of Roosevelt's legacy, only in a newer, more practical form.

It gets worse in the next paragraph, where Bush makes liberty conditional on religious belief and altruism. ... Bush advocated freedom -- but within the constraint that we are our brothers' keepers.

There is no "freedom" for the government to force one generation to be the keeper of another. There is no "freedom" for a country to democratically establish an Islamic theocracy. Until Bush grounds the concept of "freedom" to individual rights, he will be unable to effectively fight for freedom at home or abroad.

UPDATE -- January 24: Another excellent observation from Robert Tracinski regarding the inauguration: The Protests Against Representative Government: Anti-Inauguration Protests Reflect the Left's Hostility to Liberty.

Posted by Forkum at January 23, 2005 10:16 PM