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American people are the source

Freedom Editorial

H e started out almost gingerly, as if the build-up

of the last several days — creating almost a

superhero aura which may say more about our culture’s elevation of the presidency than this convention — had draped a mantle his shoulders couldn’t fill. But toward the end he grew into something approaching eloquence. Freedom as a theme, whether fully understood or not, can do that.

All in all, President Bush got the job done for his purposes. He joined the popular war on terrorism with the unpopular war in Iraq. He pushed for tax cuts. He advanced what can only be called socialist programs that are deemed popular. He was humorous and self-deprecating and he played to a cheering crowd.

Our criteria for President Bush’s speech on Thursday might not be everybody’s, but we have tried to be open about it. We wanted to see specific proposals for increasing economic opportunity by opening markets rather than enlarging government programs. We wanted to know if his pattern of domestic spending increases will continue.

We didn’t expect him to admit the Iraq war was a mistake, but we wanted to know when he will consider the job done and when the troops would start coming home.

So how did he do?

The domestic portion was almost Clintonesque, a laundry list of federal initiatives, with the usual attendant problems and even contradictions. A federal rural health center in every poor county? Restrain the deficit yet expand federal programs? Enforcing federal education standards to strengthen local control? Every president since Jimmy Carter has promised to simplify the tax code and all have made it more complex.

The sections on pressing for an ownership society were more promising but vague. We heard about retirement accounts in 2000 but we’ve seen no progress or leadership from the White House on them. Presidents typically have less ability to be bold in second terms, although it has been a while since one party has controlled both the White House and Congress in that circumstance.

The explanation for invading Iraq hasn’t improved. If anything, switching from defending against a threat to invoking a moral crusade to spread liberty by force in the Middle East suggests an undefinable and unending commitment that could drain the country of resources and its own liberty.

Liberty is the cradle of hope and opportunity, and a freer world would no doubt be a happier and more peaceful world.

But true freedom grows from the bottom up. It can seldom if ever be imposed from outside or from the top down. It is indeed inspiring to see Afghanistan’s people freed of their immediate tyrannies, but it will be years, at a yet unknown cost in blood and treasure, before the full story is known.

American politics doesn't encourage it, but a touch of humility, more recognition that the people, not the government, are the source of greatness, would be welcome.