William F. Buckley found President Bush’s inaugural address confusing and immoderate. That’s an odd combination — I would have thought that, to the extent the speech lacked moderation, this resulted from its clarity. Perhaps Buckley means that, because the speech could not have been immoderate as it sounded, it leaves one confused as to just how immoderate it was.
Here, I think, is the essence of Buckley’s objection:
The sentiments of President Bush are fine, and his sincerity was transparent. But in speaking about bringing liberty to the rest of the world, he could have gone at it more platonically. This would have required him to corral his enthusiasm for liberty everywhere with appropriately moderate rhetoric.
It seems to me that many critics are missing a key point about the speech that a number of our readers have noted — Bush was addressing not just the U.S. but also the rest of the world. There is little doubt that some dictatorial governments will be exempt, at least in the short term, from any pressure to change. In addition, the vast majority of such governments likely will receive only a nudge. But it would have made little sense for Bush to emphasize, much less specify, the exemptions and exceptions to his policy of promoting liberty throughout the world. If various regime are uncertain about how our policy applies to them, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the present environment.