This article in today’s Washington Post does a good job of letting the Bush Administration speak for itself about the import of the President’s Inaugural Address. Here are my favorite paragraphs:
White House officials argued that some observers have read more into the speech than is there. "The speech was carefully and purposely nuanced," said presidential speechwriter and policy adviser Michael J. Gerson. "We are dealing with a generational struggle. It’s not the work of a year or two."
Presidential advisers also said they were not trying to roll back the speech on the day after, pointing to language in the address that they said made it clear that the goal of ending tyranny would not be accomplished with cookie-cutter policies or unrealistic ambitions. For example, Bush declared that ending tyranny would not be accomplished primarily through armed conflict, and he made distinctions between dealing with outlaw states that actively support terrorism and those whose human rights records may be poor but that have shown a willingness to change.
The senior administration official pointed to Russia and China as countries that have a "successful relationship" with the United States. But he said Russia and China would need to embrace "a common set of values and principles" to have "a relationship that broadens and deepens."
He said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to take steps to restrict democracy, it will "have a consequence on our relations," adding that "it will depend on some sense whether he has heard the message and acted on it, or doesn’t." But he also said that administration concerns might not be voiced publicly, but through private channels.
The official stressed that he was not pulling back from the speech, which he repeatedly called "bold," but he also focused on what he called positive trends in close U.S. allies generally regarded as repressive. He said that Saudi Arabia is taking steps toward municipal elections and is having a "national dialogue" on reform, while Egypt last year held a conference that resulted in a declaration on political reform. "It’s a step," he said.
The President will have to resist those who wish to drag him into imprudently rash actions and respond to those who call him a hypocrite. He could do worse than remind them that Lincoln’s moral opposition to slavery was accompanied by a patient flexibility about the means to put it "in course of ultimate extinction." The more I think about it, the more I like the speech.