Sonia Nettnin: Language in Bush’s 2nd Inaugural
ANALYSIS: The Language in Bush’s Second Inaugural Address
By Sonia Nettnin
President George W. Bush’s inaugural address not only conveyed his administration’s policy, but it served as a platform for the mobilization of public opinion. His speech was a passionate appeal to invoke emotions in the people.
The language of his address utilizes history, religion and figurative language for the campaign of public support in his administration’s foreign-affairs-initiatives. Further examination reveals the specifics of his speech’s pervasive strategy and the administration’s response to voices of dissent.
The Speech’s Form
The opening paragraph begins: “We will persistently clarify…” so he establishes the address in the form of an argument. The Bush Administration has a clear course of action, which will proceed regardless of criticism. The phrase “jailed dissidents,” replaces the word prisoners, but it sounds like people who hold different opinions incarcerate themselves with their closed minds. The thrust of the speech is freedom, so the perceived objective of the speech is to free people from their narrow views.
Afterward, he addresses U.S. citizens “in America’s ideal of freedom.” The use of the word “ennobled” elevates and dignifies the concept. It causes people to “…surround the lost with love,” and gives the idea a moral, motherly quality. “The habits of racism,” sounds like a behavioral problem, which means it is not inherent in the U.S. socio-economic infrastructure. If the latter were the case, then retribution for slavery has validity. The sentence further illustrates racism is a problem in “…the baggage of bigotry…” so the image of people in chains is in his listeners.
From here, Bush moves to the near past of 9/11 in the expression “…our response came like a single hand over a single heart,” which means Americans agreed with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He associates it with the unity Americans feel when they place their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge of allegiance. At this point, the history of America carries the speech.
When he says “not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability,” an image of a caged hamster running in circles on a metal wheel comes to mind. Therefore, history is fate: it cannot be avoided; and it cannot be escaped; but everyone is free.
The references to Founders, the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell bring historical value to the present cause. Although the colonization of America created the United States, “…the inhabitants thereof…” replaces colonization. The words native, or indigenous are absent because Manifest Destiny forced the Native-Americans into the Trail of Tears and present-day reservations.
As the Liberty Bell still rings in the 21st century, Bush expresses that social security and health insurance will be privatized “…for the challenges of life in a free society.” Although the initial design of the U.S. Government is to serve the republic, a citizen is now “…an agent of his or her own destiny…” so the government will phase out responsibility to its taxpayers. Self-reliance requires self-autonomy and there is no room for failure in investment portfolios or plunges in the stock market. The phrase “…essential work at home…” is an integral part of the recreated American freedom.
When he says “I ask our youngest citizen to believe the evidence of your eyes,” and look into the faces of soldiers, he gives youth a passionate welcome to the military draft. They will serve in the name of divine, political idealism.
Religious references are the backbone of Bush’s address. When he says “not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills,” means God’s power is through America, so the country’s leaders will create the catalysts for change in global affairs. According to his speech, religion is the springboard for action, which satisfies “…the longing of the soul.” Political and military action will bring spiritual transformation to the world.
God is the “Author of Liberty” in Bush’s address. Since God created freedom, then the spread of His creation will save people from despotic governments and “outlaw regimes.” So do lawful regimes exist? Freedom means without restrictions, without restraints and no obligations. If freedom is democracy, then do individuals within a democracy have obligations?
Now that an association between God and liberty exists, global Manifest Destiny, the expansion of democracy, “…will reach the darkest corners of our world.” It reminds me of the ancient, world map, with the four corners held angels.
This idealistic work does not agree with the enemies of the U.S., which means the world has good and evil. As a result, the win-lose dichotomy determines the present and the future state of the world.
In Bush’s address, a person’s conscience establishes course of action, so each individual is accountable. The U.S. depends on the character of every citizen, with references to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths.
When he mentions “…the truths of the Sinai…” the Biblical reference is to Exodus, Chapters 19 and 20. According to the Bible, God made the Israelites His chosen people. The inaugural address is Bush’s conviction is this belief. The Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus preached to His disciples the beatitudes of Christianity. The third religious reference, “…the words of the Koran…” refers to the Holy Book for the followers of Islam.
In Bush’s speech, the first, two faiths have a specific event-place linked to them; but there is no association with an event-place for the third faith, such as the Cave of Hira on Jabal Nur, where Muhammad first heard God’s revelations through angel Gabriel.
All three faiths worship one God.
When Bush talks about how the Liberty Bell rang for meaning, he says “in our time it means something still.” Therefore the bell resounded loud enough to reach the present. It became an audio metaphor for the mobilization of freedom.
Then, he talks about hope.
“By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well – a fire in the minds of men,” means the U.S. ignites thoughts in peoples’ minds about democracy. For people who disagree “…it burns those who fight its progress…” so the fire of freedom is unstoppable. It sounds like the concept is beyond the reach of people on both sides of the fence because it is uncontrollable. The speech’s religious fervor spreads into the political ideology.
Later on, fire takes on a different meaning. I interpreted “…and then there came a day of fire” as Bush’s reference to 9/11. It serves as a textual reinforcement for good and evil. The dynamic remains to the speech’s last word: “firm.”
The dual between geopolitical landscapes has winners and losers – and the people absorb the outcomes.
Bush’s inaugural address advocates a worldview. It rallies public support through emotion, and relies on history, religion and figurative language for public persuasion.
Although one of the speech’s objectives is encouragement for U.S.-citizen-support in the administration’s global directives, it communicates the following message: Americans and global citizens who are not with the program are traitors to the Bush Administration. For the voices of dissent, disloyalty may bring punishment.
Time shows the power of the people moves the world.
Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.
Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.
She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.