Vice President Cheney, Mr. Chief Justice, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton, members of the United States Congress, reverend clergy, distinguished guests, fellow citizens:
On this day, prescribed by law and marked by ceremony, we celebrate the durable wisdom of our Constitution and recall the deep commitments that unite our country. I am grateful for the honor of this hour, mindful of the consequential times in which we live and determined to fulfill the oath that I have sworn and you have witnessed.
At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use, but by the history we have seen together. For a half-century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical-and then there came a day of fire. [This phrase contains three religious allusions. The first is reminiscent of Hebrew Bible language, which refers throughout to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the second allusion is to the New Testament Book of Revelation, which also refers to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the third reference is to the story of Pentecost, found in the New Testament Book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit descends to earth as wind and fire. In addition, "Day of Fire" is the name of an up-and-coming Christian rock band.]
We have seen our vulnerability, and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny-prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder-violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders and raise a mortal threat.
There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant. And that is the force of human freedom.
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. 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. [Elegant phrasing that resonates with Christians, Jews, and Muslims.]
Across the generations, 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. [This is a reference to the Apostle Paul, writing in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.]
Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen and defended by citizens and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own.
America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.
My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people from further attacks and emerging threats. Some have unwisely chosen to test America's resolve and have found it firm.
We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation -- the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.
We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity [Resonant among Catholics because Pope John Paul II uses it often when opposing abortion, euthanasia, and poverty] will guide our policies. Yet, rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty-though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know: America sees you for who you are-the future leaders of your free country.
The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."
The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.
Today, I also speak anew to my fellow citizens:
From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom.
And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well-a fire in the minds of men. 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.
A few Americans have accepted the hardest duties in this cause -- in the quiet work of intelligence and diplomacy ... the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments ... the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies. Some have shown their devotion to our country in deaths that honored their whole lives, and we will always honor their names and their sacrifice.
All Americans have witnessed this idealism and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, [This is a nod to evangelicals and conservative Catholics, have been united with the president in their disdain for moral relativism.] and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself, and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country but to its character.
America has need of idealism and courage because we have essential work at home-the unfinished work of American freedom. In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.
In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the GI Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time.
To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance-preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society.
By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.
In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character-on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives. [This is a way to show his religious tolerance and pluralism, particularly to seculars, as well as liberal Christians and Jews.] Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self.
That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, [These words will please evangelicals, particularly activists such as Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.] and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people. [Here, the president moves seamlessly to liberal God-talk that will soothe moderate Americans and will thrill the nation's Muslims, who say they've been betrayed by the Bush Administration's Patriot Act.] Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before-ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today and forever.
In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service and mercy and a heart for the weak. [Resonant with Catholics, who hear these words in liturgies, prayers and official writing] Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor [Vague reference to Jesus, who says in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself."] and surround the lost with love.
From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, [Resonant for most religious folks. For example: Protestants who hold "dedication" ceremonies for their newborns; Mormons who use the term when they "dedicate" new temples; Christians and Jews who understand the term to mean "sabbath" and who also use the phrase when "dedicating" new churches and synagogues; and Buddhists who use the term to describe specific holy days] the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?
These questions that judge us also unite us, because Americans of every party and background, Americans by choice and by birth, are bound to one another in the cause of freedom. We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes -- and I will strive in good faith to heal them.
Yet those divisions do not define America. We felt the unity and fellowship [Well-worn Protestant word, often used to describe Sunday coffee hours and the general feeling of community Christians have when they are together] of our nation when freedom came under attack, and our response came like a single hand over a single heart. And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free. [This one is loaded with meaning. The main meaning comes from the Bible, where it appears in Isaiah 61, and then again when Jesus declares in Luke 4 that God has sent him to "set the captives free." But evangelicals also use the term to refer to what they call spiritual warfare, meaning the war between Christians and the devil. They also use this term to refer to setting people free from homosexuality and from addiction to pornography. It is also used in reference to people who aren't Christian, who need to be "set free" from their current beliefs. In addition, it resonates among Jews thinking about Passover. And the phrase is a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who often used words like this in his speeches.]
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; [Here, the president responds to particular criticism from moderates, who've been alarmed by conservative Christians who have been saying that America is a special country, a "chosen nation" akin to the Biblical Israel.] God moves and chooses as he wills. [Nice rhetorical switch. This phrase explains what more mainstream (but still conservative) evangelicals believe--that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and in control of all things. This idea harkens to the theology of John Calvin, whose theology centering on "the sovereignty of God" has gained renewed popularity among evangelicals. Click here for Deborah Caldwell's 2002 article about George Bush's religious rhetoric.]
We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. [Poetic language that resonate well with religious people because these are universally accepted spiritual words] When our Founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty, when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now"-they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled.
History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction set by liberty and the author of liberty. [More Calvinist language]
When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still.
America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength-tested, but not weary [Evocative of Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary..."]-we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.
May God bless you, and may he watch over [Somewhat unexpected wording, again harkening to the "awesome God" of Calvin who is attentive to the world] the United States of America.