George W. Bush's second inaugural address attained greatness. It is the prelude to his greatness as a two-term President at the hinge of history. Whether or not Bush will succeed in being (and being remembered as) a good President in addition to a great one will be determined by his ability to convince others of his right to be right.
The words that came forth from Bush's mouth today would not have seemed alien coming from Clinton's. Like the phrases of Lincoln rehearsed again this morning, those given to Bush were both timely and timeless. Like all great things, his speech was reckless; the few who truly need the courage of belief are dwarfed in past and present by the many who doubt the wisdom of action.
And doubts there be. Bush's teleology of freedom, as an ideal, is a projection upon reality, not merely a diagnosis. It is brazen enough to speak as an oracle. All the concomitant emotions apply--in particular, that tingling sensation of potentiality becoming reality underneath and around oneself, with a speed that preempts judgment: it is the feeling of being led into the charge of battle, or of being caught in a riot, where not only anything can happen but some of those anythings presently are happening.
People fear not that Bush speaks the truth but that he does not truly believe it; people worry that Bush's true beliefs are dangerous delusions. But Bush, being a great man, shows no such fear, willing to let tomorrow justify today what today wastes momentum in excusing. Often, such boldness is folly--but not until it is decided that such boldness was folly. History is the fire in Bush's mind: whether it warms or burns him is, one suspects, only a very distant consideration compared to the Promethean feeling of steering the course of human events.
We can fault a man for steering wrongly; we cannot fault him for steering where he wishes to steer, and we must praise him, in the end, for the simple invention of his own surety. Many a life has slowly ended in that drifting decay of aching doubt which is the saddest sickness of the soul.