State of the Union addresses are often thought of as little more than laundry lists of policies. But no one could honestly say that about President Bush?s State of the Union on Wednesday. The talking heads are going to be debating one policy or another. I?d like to draw back, however, and take a look at the big picture, the theme that emerged from the speech, one that has been the cornerstone of his presidency: human dignity and human freedom.
President Bush sounded these notes in the very first minutes of his speech, when he spoke of the countries that have recently held free elections, many of them for the first time in modern history. He sounded it again in the speech?s closing moments, when he talked about ?the road of Providence? that ?leads to freedom.? In between, he spoke on a wide variety of subjects. But that same theme was underlying all of them. Every issue the president mentioned was directly related to human freedom and human dignity.
Based on what we all know about President Bush, and what I know of him personally, I can say with confidence that this is no accident. The president takes his faith very seriously. He looks at the world with a distinctly biblical understanding. Contrary to the claims of some of his critics, this worldview does not lead him to try to ?impose? his views on others?as he himself stressed in his speech. But it does lead him to see the world in the conviction that every human being is an image-bearer of God and, thus, worthy of respect. Human rights do not come from the government; they cannot be taken away from government. Freedom is a gift from God. That?s why he expressed so much faith in what he called ?freedom?s power to change the world,? a faith that is being borne out right now as the vision of a free and democratic Middle East?albeit, painfully and slowly?begins to take shape.
This explains why the president also repeatedly stressed the rights of the individual. Even with economic issues, his vision was of an empowered society, not a society of entitlement. The emphasis here was on the freedom and responsibility of individuals to make decisions that would benefit themselves and their children. The same held true for such key issues as the right to life, when the president stated that we must ?not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others,? and when he promised to fund ethical research to help the disabled.
Even the president?s statement of support for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage showed his respect for human dignity?the innate dignity of a man and woman coming together to create life. He recognizes that calling any other kind of relationship morally equivalent to that is a negation of one of the highest human responsibilities: procreation.
Toward the end of the address, President Bush quoted Franklin Roosevelt?s statement about the dreams of America. It was highly appropriate. The president is drawing on the wellspring of idealism that Roosevelt drew on to defeat fascism?the same wellspring that Lincoln drew on to abolish slavery, and that the founders drew on when they spoke of the rights to ?life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.? It is the kind of idealism that comes naturally from the belief that human life is inherently sacred in the sight of God and that He has granted the same rights to all of humanity.
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?State of the Union Address,? Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, The United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., 2 February 2005.
L. Paul Bremer III, ?Personal Satisfaction,? Wall Street Journal, 3 February 2005.
Walid Phares, ?Bush Declares: Leaders of the Middle East, Tear Down Your Walls,? Front Page Magazine, 3 February 2005.
James S. Robbins, ?Not Giving an Inch,? National Review Online, 3 February 2005.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 040121, ?The Safety of a Great Nation: The State of the Union.?