Not Enough Peace & Prosperity

Posted: Jan 22, 2005 12:00 AM
After witnessing President Bush?s second inaugural speech live and in person I have no question that Norman Podhoretz is exactly right when he writes that the president will be unyielding in his commitment to defeat totalitarian radical Islamism and will unwaveringly prosecute World War IV (the Commentary editor?s designation for the current global struggle).

Bush?s speech was all about spreading freedom and democracy, the essential tools in winning the war. Bush is right that, ultimately, the survival of liberty on our shores depends on spreading liberty to the darkest corners abroad. Podhoretz is also right in pinpointing the continued influence of the idealistic neo-con vision of U.S. foreign policy. The realist Brent Scowcroft/James Baker/Bush 41 foreign-policy wing of the GOP (they are more interested in the stability of nations, even if that means a dictatorship) suffered another grave setback with Bush 43?s second inaugural speech. Condi Rice, who quoted Natan Sharansky and emphasized the power of freedom in her confirmation testimony this week, clearly supports the president?s vision. Presumably, our next secretary of State will conduct public diplomacy toward this end.

I completely concur with and support the president?s vision. In Thursday?s speech, he unquestionably put Iran, Syria, North Korea, and other totalitarian rogue states on notice that the U.S. will only look favorably on nations that move in the direction of freedom. Bush also reached out to pro-democracy movements -- especially in Iran -- saying that the U.S. will come to their assistance if they seek our help. This is exactly the kind of appeal that Ronald Reagan frequently made to the people of the old Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc satellites: We don?t like your governments, but we believe you seek freedom just as much as we do.

But -- I was disappointed that in a thirty-three paragraph inaugural address, George W. Bush had only one paragraph on his domestic vision, in particular the ownership society and economic independence for U.S. citizens. He did not talk about his second-term plans for new economic-growth incentives, such as more job-creating tax cuts. There was only a vague reference to Social Security reform, and no mention of the energy and legal-liability reforms that would also enhance economic prosperity.

Bush has a clear vision on these matters -- and he failed to make the case.

The president?s goal is to restructure the American economy, Reagan-style. His plan is to reduce the demand for government services through supply-side, market-oriented incentives and a renewed emphasis on personal choice and accountability. None of this was anywhere to be found in the speech. The creation of a revolutionary ownership and investor society was not spelled out.

To return to Norman Podhoretz?s World War IV paradigm, we must remember that during World War III (the Cold War), American political leaders spent a lot of time debating the right model for economic growth. The breakdown of the liberal, Keynesian, big-tax-and-spend approach of the 1970s is what ushered in the Reagan Revolution. The Gipper moved to tax-cutting and deregulating. In doing so he reignited economic prosperity and launched the Republican renaissance.

George W. Bush believes in the Reagan model and has good plans to perpetuate it. But his failure to even briefly articulate this vision in his inaugural speech was a disappointment. In a sense, W. gave us too much war and not enough peace and prosperity. People hearing Bush?s address might now wonder if economic growth and job benefits will continue to partner with his steadfast prosecution of World War IV. It may well be that the domestic agenda will be fully fleshed-out in Bush?s forthcoming State of the Union message. But out of thirty-three paragraphs, Bush could have saved a few more for prosperity.