President Bush's historic second inaugural address will no doubt occasion endless amounts of insta-analysis (as opposed to the thoughtful and careful deliberation of this column). Much of that commentary will center around the alleged "radicalism" of President Bush's "freedom" agenda. Indeed, Time magazine already dubbed him an "American Revolutionary" in its 2004 Person of the Year issue.
In one sense, this is absolutely correct. In the context of American domestic politics, his plans for partial privatization of Social Security and for tax and tort reform can be called radical or revolutionary - given the discounted value of such terms in partisan politics. Though in the literal sense of these terms, revolutionaries and radicals tend not to introduce legislation so much as take over radio stations and call for the violent overthrow of the government.
But that is precisely what lies at the core of Bush's truly revolutionary foreign policy. He has already violently overthrown two governments, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he's made it clear that he wouldn't cry in his non-alcoholic beer if a few more regimes went the way of the dodo - with our help. In what may well be remembered as the most important inaugural in a half-century, the president declared:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
That really is the stuff of an American Revolutionary.
But even here we need to qualify what we mean by the R-word. We think of revolutions as breaks with the past, but that needn't be the case. People with short memories - or even shorter emotional fuses when it comes to their Bush hatred - would have us believe that JFK meant something completely different than what Bush does when he said at his inauguration that America "shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Before him, FDR appealed to the same creed when he unleashed the arsenal of democracy on Fascism. And Woodrow Wilson invoked it when he maneuvered America into a war to make the "world safe for democracy."