Great leaders so often come to us when we least expect them, but need them the most. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan are examples. History will assess the greatness of George W. Bush as president, but there is no doubt he is providing great leadership at this critical moment for our nation. His speech to a joint session of Congress was one of the greatest speeches I have ever heard, and I've heard a few.
Great leaders reach the pinnacle with great rhetoric: Winston Churchill's "blood, toil, tears and sweat," FDR's "Day of Infamy," John F. Kennedy's willingness to "bear any burden ... in defense of freedom" and Reagan's demand to Soviet leader Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Bush's speech had perfect pitch, perfectly matching the occasion and the times, defining the effort we must undertake because of the terror we have suffered. The terrorists and their fanatical political theology, the president said, will follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism, all the way to where it ends: "in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."
Americans needed to be told who these terrorists are and why they would slaughter thousands of innocent people going about their daily business. Bush, a quietly religious man, did not flinch when he explained they are religious fanatics consumed with hatred for anyone who does not believe as they do. In the president's words, "The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism" and believe they have a mandate from God to "kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children."
Why? They hate our free and democratic way of life, and they want to destroy it. As the president said, "They want to remake the world and impose their radical beliefs on people everywhere." He pointed to what the Taliban has done to Afghanistan as the model for what they would impose on the world.
I would add to this, they also hate our democracy, our liberal markets and our abundance of economic opportunity, at which the terror attacks were clearly directed. The president recognized this fact when he said, "Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source." But the attack did add incredible new stress to an already weak economy, and it is vital that lawmakers move posthaste to cut tax rates to revive this economy along with taking whatever measures are necessary to ensure that the vital industries affected by this act of war do not suffer irreparable damage.
This assault on freedom will not stand, the president had said on the very day of the attacks. Then, standing before the Congress, he reassured the country: "We will direct every resource at our command ... every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war ... to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest."
Yet, in the passion of his call to arms, the president also demonstrated maturity and calm restraint. He controlled his righteous fury and directed it with precision toward the evil foe we confront: "The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends." If there was ever a question about whether Bush is "up to the job," he dispelled it when he said, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith." These are the words of a statesman.
The president has set the stage. Now we, the American people, Christians, Jews, Muslims and all the diverse religions and ethnic groups that comprise our great nation, must join together and stand shoulder to shoulder to remove this cancer from the world and replace it with freedom, hope and liberal democratic values.
For the most part, America has been spared home-grown terrorists, in large part because our system of democratic capitalism, undergirded by constitutional guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion, provide even the poorest among us with hope and opportunity. The closest we've come to a home-grown version of today's militant Islamic terrorists were the Ku Klux Klan, who were motivated by racial hatred and resentment and killed and terrorized in the name of a warped higher ideal.
We rooted out the Klan by standing together while continuing to secure for all Americans their God-given rights to free expression, personal privacy and freedom of association. And, just as American "whites" had to risk disapproval and opprobrium from some of their own to stand in solidarity with African-Americans against Ku Klux Klan terror, they bravely did so and effectively stamped out the Klan. So, too, must Islamic Americans now stand shoulder to shoulder with non-Islamic Americans to stamp out the cells of terror that infect this nation. As the president said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." There is no room for moral equivalence, equivocation or hesitation.