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The Bush Doctrine

This Against the Grain commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.

With characteristic confidence and simplicity, President George W. Bush tossed out the formulas of the modern Inaugural Address. He gave a short speech about one thing, what can now clearly be called the Bush Doctrine. He defined it in one direct sentence:

"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."

Using the religious term, Bush said this is "the calling of our time." And this missionary, idealistic crusade is now the official policy of the United States of America.

In a grand symbolic way, President Bush has staked his second term and his legacy on the success of this most un-conservative, most radical national vocation. And he did it in a speech that didn't utter the single word that will make or break the Bush Doctrine: Iraq.

It would have been unthinkable that the George Bush who sought the White House in 2000 would have had what is now the Bush Doctrine as the vital core of his presidency, the sole topic of his second Inaugural Address. The Bush of 2000 was hostile to what he called "nation building." He had no diplomatic or international experience. He was, like most of the conservative tradition, suspicious of idealism abroad, of entanglements, of instigating change, of any American messianic dreams in distant lands.

But that, as the president said today, changed in "a day of fire."

In the speech that launched his second term, Bush didn't just promise to protect America from that fire. He vowed to change the world.

And he did so before a country divided over this leadership and worried about Iraq, the very battlefield of the Bush doctrine. A CBS News/New York Times poll out this week shows that Bush has the lowest approval ratings of any reelected president in half a century. The divisions in the country, the support for George Bush, are roughly what they were in 2000 and haven't diminished any after the 2004 election. A majority believes it is not possible to create a stable democracy in Iraq and 49 percent believe the United States should have stayed out. Only 19 percent believe the threat or terror has decreased.

In his speech, the president did not put out a laundry list of promises for his second term. He waved a hand broadly at "reforming great institutions," but he didn't mention Social Security, private accounts, taxes, torts or gay marriage. He didn't make an extended plea for national and partisan unity, as past incumbents have. He didn't set forth an agenda, make a nod to every issue, and proclaim humility before gargantuan challenges.

The political conditions of this Inauguration are odd. President Bush is the first president since 1928 to bring Republican control of all federal government -- the White House, Senate, and House -- into a second term. But he was reelected with the narrowest Electoral College majority of any incumbent since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. These ambiguities seem not to concern the president. By all indications, he believes he has a strong mandate.

Perhaps a tad of that confidence comes from something, I think, that also got its official coronation today (along with the Bush Doctrine) -- the Bush Dynasty. No chain of American fathers and sons has put so many years in high office(the Bush's beat the Adams'). And this second inaugural was, literally, a crowning moment, if not the last one.

The Bush family may be an unlikely lot for such an epic fate. They are, thankfully, not glamorous or glitzy. They do not seem to attract or cultivate celebrities. They do not hold salons for the great and glib minds of the day. And on the platform of the West front of the Capitol today, the extended Bush family seemed as comfortable as they would at a Texas Rangers game.

To me, the attractiveness of the family (and this is admittedly weird) was symbolized this week by Laura Bush's hair. I looked at pictures of her from the 2001 Inaugural and she was the same – no radical new do's or styles. How nice. Then I looked at pictures of Hillary Clinton from 1991, 1995, 2001 and in between: a whole new look, a whole new persona in each photograph. How disquieting. OK, scary.

The curse of the second term looms for Bush as for all reelected presidents. His elixir to defeat the omens seems in part made of the steadiness his wife demonstrates. He has remade his Cabinet with loyal soldiers who have served him already and he has crafted an ambitious domestic agenda, unmentioned today, to go along with the crusade of the Bush Doctrine. The unseen events -- the day of fire -- will surely mark the next four years, as they did the first, as they almost always do.

But today, at the ceremonial beginning, President Bush had one thing to say. He wants to fix the world.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Editorial Director of, based in Washington.

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By Dick Meyer

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