Instead of relying on his shaky electoral mandate, George W. Bush spelled out in his Inaugural Address how his mandate as president rests on four national values: civility, courage, compassion, and character.
Claiming a values mandate is an audacious start for Mr. Bush. Washington's meatgrinder of narrow-interest politics can chew up idealists.
But Bush has no choice. He must find common ground on values to win over Democratic lawmakers and the majority of Americans who didn't vote for him, especially blacks. Four previous presidents who won the Electoral College but not the popular vote had rough, single terms.
Will the values expressed in Bush's swearing-in speech be enough to beat history?
The speech was his best explanation yet of what he means by "compassionate conservatism." For starters, it means being bound together as a people by principles, not interests, and to act as citizens.
Hinting at the divisiveness of his election, Bush warned that the differences among Americans are so deep that "it seems we share a continent, but not a country."
So his first principle is civility, the kind that's "not a tactic or a sentiment" but a "determined choice of trust over cynicism."
Next, he calls for courage to solve problems that might hurt future generations. So his priorities are education, Social Security and Medicare, and tax cuts. The details of each reflect his ideal of pushing power and money out of Washington.
His call for compassion targets the poor and children, but recognizes that "compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government." Human needs can be met with "a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer," Bush stated. He wants the humanity of religious groups to have "an honored place in our plans and in our laws."
His call for character is an appeal for more personal responsibility and more commitment to children and community, based on "beliefs beyond ourselves." He suggests that civic duty is God-driven service to others. "When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it."
Nice words, loaded with meaning, but does Bush have the political skill to translate principles into action? His humility may be his best leadership quality in an age of political cynicism.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society