George W. Bush, last night, gave what amounted to a rather pedestrian effort in his farewell address. There were some obviously heartfelt moments – such as when the president recognized the mother of a police officer killed on 9/11 who gave Bush her son’s shield following the attacks. Outside of that, the nationally televised address was a further attempt to justify the actions Bush took in office, while once again avoiding any semblance of accountability.
Of course any attempt to match the significance of Washington’s farewell address or Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech would be a herculean task, but that does not mean that Bush’s speech lacked any significance. Unfortunately, the significance of the address was in a much different context than the warnings and sage advice offered by the two former generals.
Two quotes from the address stick out immediately:
“As we address these challenges – and others we cannot foresee tonight – America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise.”
“In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.”
The first quote represents an unrealistic, Manichean worldview. The discomfort with Bush’s assertions about good and evil came not from some disbelief in these forces but instead from the simple-minded idea that the world could be merely broken down along those lines. There is the potential for good and evil in all things, and, unfortunately, there are times when, out of necessity, compromises are made with evil – for example, when the U.S. allied with Stalin’s Soviet Union in World War II. This does not mean that evil should be tolerated, but it does mean that the U.S. government needs to take a realistic assessment of the world around it and understand that these diametrically opposed forces are a basic feature of human nature.
The second quote is ridiculous on its face and has no basis in fact. The liberty of the American people depends on what happens in America, not on democratic revolutions in far off lands. This call for permanent revolution has been seen before. It is a manifestation of a belief held by an ideologue representing a state that was supposed to be the polar opposite of everything America stands for. He once said,
“The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in complete liquidation.”
That ideologue was Leon Trotsky.Published in