Bush takes oath, pledges freedom
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- George W. Bush was sworn in yesterday as the United States' 16th two-term president.
On a bitterly cold Washington, D.C., morning, thousands of supporters and a handful of detractors gathered at the Capitol and on the National Mall. Crowds stretched almost a mile, toward the Washington Monument.
Bush's first term officially ended at midday, but he began his second term four minutes before noon as he took the inaugural oath that every president since George Washington has taken.
Standing on the steps of the Capitol, the president recited the 35-word oath, following the frail-looking Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, 80.
Rehnquist, who suffers from thyroid cancer and was making his first public appearance in three months, was interrupted every few words by a loud respirator that echoed throughout the Mall from a multitude of loudspeakers.
The president's address mainly focused on foreign policy, and he pledged a greater role for the United States around the globe.
"The best hope for peace is the expansion of freedom in all the world," Bush said. "We have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave."
Dave Whitt, originally from Beaver, Pa., who now works at the Pentagon, watched the president's address from the Mall. Along with his son, Whitt sported a Steelers hat. He praised Bush's speech as "inspiring."
"It is what I was expecting him to say," Whitt said. "However, although it is good to say these things, it is much harder to do than say. It is the challenge to make it happen."
Whitt said he appreciated the president's continual references to God and the reaffirmation of God's place in the legacy of the United States.
For instance, the president said, "From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and Earth."
There was also a strong military presence in the audience. Joe Hines, who serves in the U.S. army, said, "It was my first inauguration, and it was very enjoyable."
Because it was the first inauguration since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, miles of metal barricades enclosed the vicinity around the Capitol. Snipers lined the rooftops and thousands of armed police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs manned the surrounding snow-topped landscape.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who battled Bush for the presidency in the fall, watched the inauguration along with other lawmakers and the families of the president and vice president.
Throughout his inaugural address, which lasted about 17 minutes, Bush did not mention Iraq by name. But he implicitly mentioned the war in Iraq by responding to criticisms of his administration's foreign policy.
"Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty," Bush said. "Though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt."
Maria Braechel, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., complained of inconsistency in the president's speech.
"He is really just contradicting himself when he is talking about freedom because he has been taking freedom away from all Americans and others around the world," she said.
"What he is saying is ridiculous," Braechel added. "I go to school here in D.C., and the [public schools] are terrible. The U.S. is falling apart, and he is talking about 'prosperity'?"
Though police and Secret Service at the checkpoints around the Mall attempted to take away signs criticizing Bush, Braechel managed to bring in a banner that read, "War begins with W."
"The legal observers are doing a good job around the checkpoints, making sure people's rights are not being violated, and that they are allowed to bring in signs," she said, referring to legal teams around the Mall.
There were no major disturbances in the crowd as Bush spoke. The few people who had brought signs held them up to steely-eyed looks from the president's supporters.
Keith Nelson, a local student, wandered in and out of the crowd silently, holding aloft a placard that read, "Same old Cold War oil-dependent logic."
"These people don't know what's going on," he said.
But on the steps of the Capitol, the president continued his address, drawing upon the words of former President Abraham Lincoln, who had delivered his first inaugural speech 144 years ago.
"The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did," Bush said. "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."
"By our efforts, we have lit a fire in the minds of men," the president said toward the end of his address. "It warms those who feel its power. It burns those who fight its progress. And one day, this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."