Most of the initial commentators on George W. Bush’s speech last night noted it was half State of the Union and half acceptance speech. To me, it was actually an echo of another speech, 43 years ago: John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
Here is what JFK said in that speech:
[T]he same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth . . . that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . proud of our ancient heritage -- and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. . . .
Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens . . . and to let the oppressed go free." . .
Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again -- a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out . . . .
With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
And here is what George W. Bush said last night:
I believe in the transformational power of liberty. The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom. As the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq seize the moment, their example will send a message of hope throughout a vital region.
Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach and so is peace with our good friend, Israel.
Young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming.
Young men will hear the message that national progress and dignity are found in liberty, not tyranny and terror. . . .
And as freedom advances, heart by heart, and nation by nation, America will be more secure and the world more peaceful. . . .
Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of liberty to transform lives and nations. That power brought settlers on perilous journeys, inspired colonies to rebellion, ended the sin of slavery, and set our nation against the tyrannies of the 20th century. . .
I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom in a new century. . . . This moment in the life of our country will be remembered. Generations will know if we kept our faith and kept our word. Generations will know if we seized this moment and used it to build a future of safety and peace. The freedom of many and the future security of our nation now depend on us. . . .
To everything we know there is a season -- a time for sadness, a time for struggle, a time for rebuilding. And now we have reached a time for hope. This young century will be liberty's century. . . . Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.
This is the everlasting dream of America. And tonight, in this place, that dream is renewed.
Let the word go forth. There is a straight line from JFK’s speech to GWB’s, just as there is a straight line from George McGovern's theme ("Come Home, America") to John Kerry’s ("Let America Be America Again"). What a momentous referendum November 2 will be.