<p><p><p><p><p>Liberty, Equality, Order: The three pillars of American Ideolo</p></p></p></p></p>
After George W. Bush was sworn in to a second term as President of the United States in January, Americans were surprised, and at times dismayed by the inaugural speech he delivered. A general refrain was that in the years since the imposition of the two-term limit, second inaugural addresses would tend to be far more idealistic in tone than first addresses, and Bush’s address was no exception. Others cynically pointed out that Bush had appointed a new speechwriter to craft the second inaugural address, and a new speechwriter means effectively a new voice for the presidential product. However, it may be noted that the 2005 inaugural address represented a radical departure from what we had come to expect from the president, and depending on one’s ideological or partisan stance, one may either be confused, angered, suspicious, or thrilled. What stood out for most observers was that Bush’s address in January included a heavy reliance on words and phrases that spoke to “liberty” or “freedom”—far more than in any of his previous speeches, and certainly far more than during his campaign.
That liberals would criticize Bush comes as a surprise to no one. Bush had already painted himself a “compassionate conservative” in the previous election campaign, and his initiative record generally favored an agenda concerned with order, security, and traditional institutions, especially religious institutions. What did come as a surprise to some was the negative reaction voiced by some conservatives in response to his inaugural address. However, because order, not liberty, is the primary focus of conservatives, conservative antipathy towards Bush’s second inaugural address, a prima facie libertarian speech, should also not surprise us.
At first one must ask the question: Was Bush’s second inaugural address in fact a libertarian speech? And if so, exactly how closely does it cleave towards libertarian rhetoric? In order to find out, I obtained a transcript of the address and measured the frequency of ideological indicators along the three axes of liberty, equality, and order. Employing a method that compared the text of the address with a predetermined range of ideological indicators (the same table of indicators used for the previous inquiries), I counted 38 direct references to liberty, 18 references to equality, and 6 references to order in the text of Bush’s speech.
What is most peculiar about Bush’s second inaugural address is not simply that it cleaves towards libertarian rhetoric, but that it cleaves so strongly to libertarianism that it is ultimately incongruous with the president’s ostensibly conservative 2004 re-election campaign. Indeed an analysis of ideological indicators reveals that this speech is at least as ideologically libertarian as his campaign was conservative. Despite this overt expression of libertarian sentiment, however, ideological libertarians are likely to look upon President Bush with suspicion, or else to accuse the president of “flip-flopping” as much as the Bush campaign accused John Kerry of having done during his tenure in the U.S. Senate. It is possible that the administration was aware of this problem, and so crafted Bush’s subsequent State of the Union address so that it would attempt to reconcile the two seemingly conflicting positions. (See below; Click charts to enlarge)
It would not have been sufficient for President Bush to have delivered a single strong libertarian speech in order to convince those favorably disposed towards such rhetoric that Bush himself harbored libertarian tendencies. After all, a single inaugural address, despite the media attention it receives, cannot in one stroke erase the burden of an entire prior campaign, as the next figure illustrates:
Most troubling for the ideological libertarian is that although the 2005 inaugural address contains language he would consider favorable, its total rhetorical volume is far less than the whole of George W. Bush’s prior election campaign, and is therefore unlikely to shift the president’s basic ideological orientation. The subsequent State of the Union address appears to have attempted to make up for this deficiency with an increase in overall rhetorical volume, ultimately to overtake the measurable rhetorical volume of the issues pages on Bush’s 2004 Campaign web site (“Campaign 2k4” in the figures above). Even so, when all is taken together—the Bush campaign, the inaugural address, and the State of the Union address—the president still comes across under the LEO model as a conservative, albeit a conservative of a different stripe from before the election, rather than a libertarian.
If George Bush remains a conservative, what could explain his flirtation with libertarianism in both the Inaugural Address and the State of the Union speech? One possible reason may be found by looking to the LEO model itself. Were one to assume that the three axes—liberty, equality, and order—are primary dimensions of American ideology, and that other axes are of minute enough influence not to be relevant to the perception of how moderate or extreme a given political actor appears, i.e. that the three axes of this model describe a closed system, then an express attachment to more than one of these axes ultimately moderates any tendency towards ideological extremism. Observation of the president’s re-election campaign literature indicated that at least fifty percent of his language favored order, and thus placed Mr. Bush in the category of “Conservative Ideologue”, and even moderate or centrist conservatives may be unlikely to support even those who share their general ideological preference if they appear too strident in those beliefs, or else are unwilling to entertain the opinions of those with whom they disagree ideologically. By adopting a quasi-libertarian stance, Bush was able to moderate yet maintain his ideological preference without fear of appearing to adopt the views of ideological liberals, which would effectively alienate him from the conservative leadership in his own party who see liberalism as anathema.
Another possible reason for Bush to employ libertarian rhetoric in his speeches stems from the basic character of the successful coalition within the Republican Party forged in 1968 by then-governor of California Ronald Reagan. Reagan, himself a former Democrat, joined the Republicans in the 1960s in part to challenge the deeply entrenched leadership within the Democratic Party in California, but also because he believed that Democrats had strayed from their Jeffersonian advocacy of small government and devotion to expanding individual liberty. “Government is not the solution to the problem,” Reagan boldly declared in the 1980 presidential campaign and in his first inaugural address, “government is the problem.” This fundamentally libertarian viewpoint would propel Reagan into the White House that year and again in an electoral landslide in 1984. The Reagan Coalition—an alliance of libertarians, conservatives, and some moderates—would come to define the Republican Party throughout the 1980s and push it into the majority of both houses of Congress in 1994, a position Republicans have enjoyed largely unchallenged for the last decade.
The 2004 Republican National Convention, however, demonstrated that in light of the president’s overtly conservative initiative platform, as well as a largely conservative agenda outlined in his campaign for that year, the foundation of the Reagan Coalition was beginning to crack. Few who watched or listened to the coverage at the Republican Convention failed to notice the marked difference in tone between conservative speakers such as Laura Bush or Democrat Zell Miller and the libertarian-leaning governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Few also could fail to notice that the responses each speaker received on the floor among the delegates spoke volumes about the potential split emerging within the Republican Party. Ideological coalitions between orthogonally opposed positions are expected to be fragile, and unless the President did something to maintain the increasingly uneasy alliance (defined largely by a shared distate for programmatic liberalism) in positive rather than negative terms, the Party itself was in long term jeopardy.
Bush’s acceptance speech at the 2004 Convention would prove to be a shade of things to come. For most of that speech, Bush concentrated on his conservative allies, emphasizing security, tradition, and perceived American virtues. The last six paragraphs, however, concentrated heavily on the American attachment to liberty, and many observers remarked that Bush’s address was effectively two separate speeches, bearing two perhaps divergent themes. What was not recognized, however, was that these two themes spoke to two distinct ideological pressures from within the Republican party: one stridently conservative and best embodied in the rhetoric of a Laura Bush or a Rick Santorum, the other manifestly libertarian and expressed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Paul, or Pete Sessions.
George W. Bush, like his Democratic opponent John Kerry, could be said to be reacting rather than acting. However, unlike Kerry, who reacted strongly in the Senate to pressures that could threaten his standing with his constituents, Bush has reacted strongly in the presidency to ideological pressures from within his own party that could threaten not only his standing with that party, but even the party itself. From the abrupt change of central theme in his acceptance speech to the singularly libertarian character of his Inaugural Address, through to the combination of both libertarian and conservative themes in the State of the Union Address, Bush appears to be trying to maintain a fragile alliance among partisans who find it difficult to remain together.