"And then there came a day of fire"

By Mark Follman
January 20, 2005 11:08PM (UTC)
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The heart of Bush's inaugural speech was focused on the continuation of world war. He did not utter the word "Iraq" a single time.

Bush may be a bumbler at press conferences, but in the able hands of speechwriters he again proved himself perfectly capable of delivering soaring language thrust by the sweep of history: "After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical," he said. "And then there came a day of fire."


Neither did he mention the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by name, where the reference was crystal clear. "We have seen our vulnerability -- and we have seen its deepest source," he said. "For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat."

The stated mission of "expanding freedom" through the world to secure America's own -- the mission of a world war on terrorism -- came full circle with fire imagery, in a shift from apocalypse to evangelical fervor: "Because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation," Bush said, "tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well -- a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."

It probably wouldn't have been quite right, though, to herald four more years of Bush without a clunker or two. The riffs on domestic life and duty were boilerplate at best: "In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character, on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives." Bush then added, "Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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