George Walker Bush took the oath of office for a second term yesterday, dedicating his presidency to spreading democracy and freedom "with...
WASHINGTON — George Walker Bush took the oath of office for a second term yesterday, dedicating his presidency to spreading democracy and freedom “with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
In the first wartime inauguration ceremony in more than 30 years, Bush vowed to transform U.S. foreign policy to make human rights the defining priority, arguing that only liberty would “break the reign of hatred and resentment” that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that seared his first term.
From now on, Bush said, relations with “every ruler and every nation” would be predicated on how they treat their own people, a profound break from traditional U.S. policy and the Bush administration’s practices in his first term when it worked with repressive governments in the war against terrorism.
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Bush presented the United States as a beacon for the subjugated around the world and promised to confront the despots who enchain them.
“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors,” Bush told tens of thousands of onlookers from the West Front of the Capitol in a 21-minute address in which he used the words “free,” “freedom” or “liberty” 49 times. “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
On a breezy winter day with a thin layer of snow covering the Capitol grounds, Bush was sworn in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in the 80-year-old jurist’s first public appearance since disclosing his thyroid cancer last October. Leaning on a cane and sounding hoarse as he administered the 35-word oath, Rehnquist moved on his own power, but his health may lead to the first high-court vacancy in a decade and a fierce partisan battle over his successor.
The nation’s 55th presidential inauguration took place in a capital wary of the threat of terrorism and swathed in security the likes of which have never been seen for a swearing-in. About 100 square blocks of downtown were closed to traffic as sharpshooters kept watch from rooftops, fighter jets and helicopters patrolled, bomb-sniffing dogs searched vehicles, and 13,000 soldiers and police officers staffed the inaugural parade route and other key locations. When Bush got out of his armored limousine to walk several hundred feet of the journey from the Capitol to the White House alongside first lady Laura Bush, they were surrounded by dozens of Secret Service agents.
As Bush dashed through a day that included a church service, a congressional lunch, an inaugural parade and 10 evening events, there were sharp reminders of the country’s political divide. A man near the front roared a string of boos at the president near the end of his address, but did not interrupt it. Two protesters unfurled an anti-war banner during the swearing-in, only to be removed by police and shouted down by Bush supporters chanting, “USA! USA!” Along the parade route were demonstrators bearing signs such as “Guilty of War Crimes — Impeach Bush.”
Protesters scuffled with police at at least two points near Pennsylvania Avenue. Officers waved batons and used pepper spray to subdue marchers who knocked down metal security barricades, threw water bottles and other debris and, in one instance, set an American flag aflame.
Police reported 14 arrests for various offenses, most related to the protests. But about 24 activists who wanted to be arrested were left lying on the cold asphalt near Lafayette Square for three hours before abandoning their “die-in.”
The omnipresent security forces served as a reminder of how much has changed since Bush’s first inauguration four years ago as the nation’s 43rd chief executive. A presidency born out of election controversy and focused on domestic issues such as tax cuts soon became consumed by the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bush embarked on a course that sometimes alienated allies and embittered opponents, leaving U.S. voters deeply divided about his leadership and the continuing conflict in Iraq. In defeating Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Bush became the first president elected to a second term with his party increasing its hold over both houses of Congress since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first re-election in 1936. Yet he also won with the smallest margin of any re-elected president in more than a century, and his approval rating as he began his second term yesterday was the lowest of any in modern times.
Plea for national unity
Bush spent little time dwelling on the divisions, instead summoning the legacy of Sept. 11 as a rally to national unity. “We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes — and I will strive in good faith to heal them,” he said as Kerry sat stoically on the stage nearby. “Yet those divisions do not define America. We felt the unity and fellowship of our nation when freedom came under attack, and our response came like a single hand over a single heart.”
Bush, 58, appeared a little grayer and heavier at his second inauguration, weathered by four years of tumult — yet determined, as he said in recent interviews, to use the next four years to achieve historic change. While he shed a tear when he hugged his father, former President George H.W. Bush, at the first inauguration, the president displayed little emotion yesterday.
He started the morning with his parents at the White House, where he read from the Bible, according to aides, and then headed across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church for a 9 a.m. prayer service with Laura Bush and their 23-year-old twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
The extended Bush family, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, later shared the stage at the Capitol. Other guests included former presidents Carter and Clinton, prominent Cabinet officers, and members of Congress, such as Kerry and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. The Rev. Luis Leon delivered the invocation, mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Denyce Graves performed solos, and the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell offered the benediction.
Vice President Dick Cheney took his oath, administered by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., followed by Bush, who was sworn in four minutes before the constitutionally prescribed noon hour. As he swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he placed his left hand on the family Bible, held open by his wife, that he used four years ago and that his father used 12 years before that.
Bush outlined a governing philosophy ambitious in its scope, if uncertain in how it will translate into reality. Although most presidents include paeans to U.S. liberty in their inaugural speeches, rarely has one voiced such a full-throated pledge to apply it to policy.
“We have seen our vulnerability and we have seen its deepest source,” Bush said. “For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny — prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder — violence will gather and multiply in destructive power and cross the most defended borders and raise a mortal threat.
“So,” he added, “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
The president assured that he did not intend to achieve this primarily through force. “America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”
Without using the word Iraq, Bush said he had touched off a spark in a region historically ruled by dictators and “one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.”
The president also appealed to young Americans to consider enlisting in the military or find other ways of joining his mission. “Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself.”
He made only passing reference to the far-reaching domestic initiatives that have dominated the political dialogue in Washington since his re-election, such as restructuring Social Security, the tax code and immigration policy.
At a Capitol luncheon after the address, Bush appeared relaxed, even joking at the massive security measures. “I want to thank all my friends from Texas who have come,” he said. “I’m surprised that some were able to penetrate the security.”
Material from The Dallas Morning News is included in this report.