WASHINGTON – President Bush's (search) inauguration day speech was a 180-degree turnaround from the pre-2000 election campaign in which he said he didn't believe it was the United States' role to get involved in nation building. But an attack on American soil and an ongoing War on Terror (search) has forced the president to reconsider.
During his speech after taking the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol Building (search) on
Thursday, Bush said that 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. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment ... and that is the force of human freedom."
He went on to say that the hatred exposed by enemies of the United States has proven to him that liberty in other lands is the only hope for liberty at home and it is the objective and policy of the U.S. government to promote freedom in all parts of the world, though not necessarily by military action.
"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies," he said.
The speech, which lasted about 20 minutes, made no policy prescriptions.
Those are to be revealed at the president's Feb. 2 State of the Union address. But the high-soaring rhetoric that stirred Republicans and other Bush supporters also left a lasting impression on some Democratic lawmakers as well.
"The President's speech firmly supported freedom, liberty and democracy and opposed oppression," Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said. "However, he did so while being particularly respectful of differences in traditions and cultures in other nations. It will motivate people striving for freedom and the rule of law and democratic governments around the world."
"Listening to him today — this was the best speech he's ever delivered,"
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said on the Senate floor.
"President Bush's inaugural address was a reaffirmation of our nation's steadfast commitment to the cause of freedom and democracy. We are a nation born through revolution, and history and our national character command us to aid the march of human liberty and dignity in every corner of the world," House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D- Md., said in a written statement.
Hoyer, Reid and Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., all said that they are willing to work with the president on the pressing issues facing them. But Durbin said he will "wait for the president's State of the Union (speech), wait for his budget resolution, wait to see if the promise of values that were articulated in the inaugural address will be played out in the actual budget presented to Congress in the future."
The biggest issue to be played out is whether peace will prevail in Iraq. Bush did not specifically refer to the embattled nation in his inaugural speech, but it is on everyone's mind. A recent poll of Americans showed six in 10 worry that the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 will not stabilize the country, though just as many say it's a good first step.
Iraq may become the defining issue of Bush's presidency, whether democracy takes root there or not. U.S. casualty totals in Iraq stood at 1,364 dead and 10,500 wounded as of Wednesday. The price in dollars is running at around $1 billion per week, or about $100 billion since major combat.
Americans for the most part do appear willing to wait it out for a bit on Iraq, but that may not last for long, and if not, it could become a real problem for the president, one Bush ally said.
"If the perception is that democracy is taking hold, he becomes virtually invulnerable," Tom Rath, a member of the Republican National Committee, said. "If not, well, let's not talk about that."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Washington to attend the ceremonies agreed that Iraq is a delicate matter for the president, adding that he must also work on regaining the confidence of weary allies.
"I'm sure he has an interest, like every American, to get out of this war as quickly as possible," Schwarzenegger said. "The key thing now is, is to really create great relationships overseas."
Bush may be able to create great relationships overseas, but he is still looking to develop better relations with several Democrats, some who are less willing than others to hear his ideas, either about the War on Terror or an ambitious set of domestic policies. Bush wants to reform Social Security, the tax code and the legal system as well as get his judicial nominees on the bench and expand education initiatives begun under the No Child Left Behind law.
"When the inauguration bands stop playing and Congress comes back into session, we Democrats will be on guard and ready to fight against the Republicans' extreme policies once again," New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, wrote in a fundraising e-mail.
"We have strong differences and we argue and fight with all our hearts and energy, and our system endures because we Americans expect nothing less," former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said.
But Reid and others for now are taking a softer approach.
"We may be elected as Democrats and Republicans, but we serve as Americans.
And there are many areas where we can find common ground. I look forward to leading the Democratic caucus and working personally with the president and my Republican colleagues," he said.
"I hope that during the next four years, the president's actions will give true meaning to his words of unity and promises of representing all Americans ... When we do not agree, I hope we can find a compromise that benefits the American people," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.