Viewpoint: Clinton, Bush values offer contrast

Viewpoint: Clinton, Bush values offer contrast

By Joe Baker

Clinton, Bush values offer contrast

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Inaugural addresses mostly are like butterflies. They shimmer briefly and then vanish into the history books, soon to be forgotten.

While they are present and prominent in consciousness, they offer an opportunity to examine the new president’s attitudes and philosophy to a degree, and to compare them with his predecessor.

On January 21, 1993, President William Jefferson Rockefeller Clinton delivered his first inaugural speech. He cited a list of national ills and focused on change.

“Not change for change’s sake, but change to preserve America’s ideals—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though we march to the music of our time, our mission is timeless.”

Clinton had thanked George Bush, Sr. for his service as president, but he saw problems with the country.

“Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still the world’s strongest, but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions among our people.”

Has any of that changed during Clinton’s eight years in office?

Bush observed: “While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.”

Clinton spoke of the effects of modern technology on American society.

“This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of Americans who are able to compete and win in it. But when most people are working harder for less; when others cannot work at all; when the cost of health care devastates families and threatens to bankrupt many of our enterprises, great and small; when fear of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and when millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we are calling them to lead—we have not made change our friend.”

Has your income risen in the past few

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years? The politicians’ paychecks have. Is health care any cheaper or the streets any safer? Obviously, we have not solved the problems Clinton vowed to attack.

He also said: “We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? What he was really talking about was more welfare programs, to ensure keeping the votes of the poor, and taking the huge sums obtained through overtaxation to apply against the national debt, instead of returning the money to those it was taken from.

“We must show courage in a time of blessing,” Bush declared, “by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations. Together we will reclaim America’s schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes, to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.”

Clinton asserted: “It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing, from our government or from each other. Let us all take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families, but for our communities and our country.”

Despite these noble sentiments, neither man could resist a bit of saber rattling.

Clinton: “When our vital interests are challenged, or the will and conscience of the international community is defied, we will act—with peaceful diplomacy whenever possible, with force when necessary. The brave Americans serving our nation today in the Persian Gulf, in Somalia, and wherever else they stand are testament to our resolve.”

Bush: “The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake: America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.”

Speaking of values, Clinton made three references to God or a higher power, while Bush made six such remarks. One sharp point of contrast came when Bush stated: “Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom.” Somewhat different than “Let’s party.”

Rhetoric is cheap. Bush is talking of things that resonate with a great many Americans: accountability, honesty, compassion. It remains to be seen how well he will meet those standards.

Clinton said: “…our greatest strength is the power of our ideas, which are still new in many lands. Across the world, we see them embraced—and we rejoice.” But his exit line was: “I lied.”

George W. Bush, what will be your exit line?

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