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Response to speech is mixed

K. Aaron Van Oosterhout | Friday, January 21, 2005

During his inaugural address Thursday, President Bush spoke of an “untamed fire of freedom” that “warms those who feel its power.” While some members of the Notre Dame community found his words inspiring, others were chilled by his foreign policy rhetoric.

“I didn’t think it was his best speech,” said Nicola Bunick, co-president of the College Democrats of Notre Dame. “It was very philosophical in a place that wasn’t very appropriate. It was pretty vague.”

At noon, President Bush took the oath of office and then delivered his address to a nation that has given him the lowest approval rating of any president entering his second term in the last 50 years, according to the Gallup Poll. In such an environment, his speech would be written in a way so as not to rile the opposing viewpoint, Assistant Professor of Political Science Dan Lindley said.

“It’s easy to talk about standing with the oppressed, and to stand for freedom Lindley said in an e-mail to The Observer. “Who could disagree?”

David Campbell, assistant professor of political science, could not.

“Like most inaugural speeches, President Bush was very broad and general,” said Campbell. “He chose to step above the policy. While I think, rhetorically, it worked, I don’t think it’s going to redefine the political landscape.”

The President also used religious language as an appeal to the majority of U.S. citizens, said Campbell.

“The speech itself contain[ed] a lot of religious language, and he has a tendency to alienate a small percentage [of the citizenry],” he said, “but, actually, it probably works with the majority of the population.”

Overall, however, Campbell said he had “a hard time believing that anyone who was fervently anti-Bush in the 2004 campaign would change their minds about him because of this speech.”

Teresa Ghilarducci, assistant professor of economics and policy studies, agreed.

“I don’t think it’ll move anybody,” she said, “and it’s too bad.”

Unlike Campbell, who thought the President will use this speech as a springboard for a new diplomatic foreign agenda, Ghilarducci felt the speech divulged nothing of his future agenda, domestic or foreign.

“Bush’s speech wasn’t referring to any of the issues we are facing today,” she said. “[He] just fed us pablum from the fifth grade. I was ready for him to make the connection between individual liberty and privatizing Social Security or anything else that he wants to do, but all we got was a speech devoid of proper nouns.”

Also unlike Campbell, Ghilarducci felt the President’s broad, non-specific oratory signaled something sinister.

“Whenever people are vague, it usually means they’re hiding something,” she said. “The lack of specifics makes him hard to trust.”

Ian Ronderos, co-president of the College Republicans of Notre Dame, was present at the inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. He claimed the reception to the speech was mostly positive, and felt it was “powerful” and “really well-written.”

“I think he was quite specific in the point he wanted to get across; he gave almost ultimatums,” he said. “He’s telling you the focus of his next term is going to be the spreading of liberty abroad and the suppression of tyranny.”

Whether or not members of the Notre Dame community felt the fire of President Bush’s words, however, all agreed that his actions in the next four years will illuminate the truth of his speech.

“Probably the speech in and of itself isn’t going to change anything, but if it’s the beginning of a broader initiative to reach out to our allies, it could begin a thaw,” Campbell said.

Some excerpts from President Bush’s inaugural address, courtesy of www.whitehouse.gov:

u”There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.”

u”We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world […] So 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.”

u”And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom’s enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat.”

u”By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well – a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.”

u”We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.”

u”May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America.”