Four years ago, I remember being very lukewarm about President Bush. I was, after all, a McCain Republican: As a social moderate, a self-styled “internationalist” and a fiscal conservative, I had reason to approach the Bush administration with some skepticism. I was unsure what to expect with calls for “reaching across the aisle” and for “compassionate conservatism.” That Bush had a strong vision for American society was undeniable; that this vision was compatible with my own was an entirely different issue.
Since his inauguration in 2001, Bush has been tested both internationally and domestically. The United States has been attacked, engaged in two wars abroad, and faced a massive recession, but in reacting to these crises, President Bush has exhibited a level of courage and character that has strengthened the country’s resolve. The 2005 State of the Union provided Bush with the opportunity to demonstrate how the international system has changed from that of four years ago, and to reflect on how his administration has changed along with it. Responding to critics and naysayers, the president delivered an address reaffirming his belief in the empowerment of individuals at home and his commitment to a proactive strategy in defense of a democratic peace abroad.
Bush set the tone for his second term in his inaugural address, pledging that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands” and “the best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” The recent elections in Iraq have reinforced this very promise — America has sacrificed to ensure the freedoms and rights of others worldwide. Isolationism has been replaced with interventionism, and the State of the Union address reinforced an unwavering pledge that the United States “must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.” This revelation will underscore diplomacy in the second Bush administration. Under Condoleezza Rice, the State Department will look to transition from goals of stability, to goals of reform and liberalization abroad. The president also explicitly noted that the mission in Iraq will not be held to an “artificial timetable” and said that, contrary to the sentiments of Sen. Ted Kennedy only a week before (when he called for an immediate withdrawal of American forces), our forces must continue to persevere in the face of such immense stakes.
A stable Middle East requires a free and independent Iraq, as our long-term security goals are deeply interwoven with the success of democracy in Baghdad. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote Bush used is particularly apt at emphasizing this point: “Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.” The Bush administration has dedicated itself to realizing the transforming power of freedom — indeed, the President has staked his legacy on the success of his bold and innovative foreign policy. To realize this dream, we are mobilizing forces beyond our own borders: NATO is being reinvigorated, funds are being transferred to burgeoning democracies, and our military coalitions grow stronger by the day. We are engaged against an enemy that shares neither our sensibilities nor our values and Bush has made it crystal clear that the United States will prevail.
The heart of the State of the Union, however, remained geared toward domestic concerns. With an overriding theme of individual ownership and empowerment, Bush outlined his goals for Social Security reform, new education standards, and the stimulation of the economy. A revamping of Social Security runs the risk of further polarizing the United States and dividing the Republican Party; the president, through outlining a variety of proposals, shrewdly left legislators with the task of formulating a compromise bill. The stakes are great, as the shortfalls of the current system will soon run into the hundreds of millions and are wholly unsustainable. To generate productive reform, however, the process must be open and inclusive, and this can only be accomplished by leaving the nitty-gritty to congressional leaders and having the White House provide general direction. Bush will certainly continue to stress personal retirement accounts as a preferred alternative for young investors. Such a proposal should not be incompatible with centrist Democrats: Retirees will continue to receive their checks and a strong safety net will remain intact.
These ideas tie in directly with a sustained commitment by the president to reduce the deficit, keep taxes low, and establish stricter tort reform. To ensure the viability of Social Security and retirement funds, the United States must continue to grow. The best way to ensure economic expansion is to promote the free market and individual investment and to reduce barriers impeding productivity. The State of the Union, in this manner, reflected both short- and long-term strategic visions: In order to preserve overarching security interests, the United States must remain competitive and flexible.
The Bush we saw on Wednesday night was strikingly different than the Bush who won the presidency in 2000 — he has reinvented both himself and the Republican Party. The president envisions a stronger, more inclusive America, but his proposals are firmly grounded within the first principles of individualism, liberty and equity. Where he leads, I, for one, will follow.
Al Jiwa is a junior in Pierson College and president of the Yale College Republicans.