Rhetoric and reality

The soaring rhetorical flourishes of President Bush’s inaugural speech last week would have been stirring indeed, had they not been so belied by reality on the ground.

It’s hard to know just what the president meant when he told the dissidents of the world that “when you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.” Sounds great, but when rebels rise up against oppressive regimes in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, will we support them? Will we reconsider most-favored-nation trade status for China, which brutally occupies Tibet and squelches religious freedom and democratic movements in its own country? Seems unlikely.

And what does the president mean when he says, “Americans will not impose our own style of governing on the unwilling"? Does that mean he’s abandoned the policy of pre-emption that got us into Iraq? Somehow we don’t think so. If Seymour Hersh’s latest report in The New Yorker is correct, the administration is already gearing up for war with Iran.

The president says he wants to “make our society more just and equal,” even as he’s moving to make Social Security less secure. And he reiterates his belief in “the durable wisdom of the Constitution,” even as he applies litmus tests to prospective judges and nominates the architect of his torture policy to be his attorney general.

We wonder, does the president believe his own words? If he doesn’t, he’s deceiving us. If he does—well, that’s really scary.