The Tar Pit

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Frum Smacks President's Koranic Moment

An excerpt from David Frum, on the second Inaugural Address of President George W. Bush:

The crowd didn't applaud much during the president's second inaugural.... The speech was in many ways a disappointing piece of work. But instead of criticizing the result, let's try to understand what went wrong.

Yesterday's Inaugural address was a fine and tough 14-minute speech that was allowed to bloat to 20 minutes.


Unneeded words invite dangerous editing. When a speech is short and hard and perfect, it protects itself from unwise interventions. But when it gets long, senior officials with particular agendas -- or particular bugaboos -- feel that they can insert them into the mass without unnoticed.


"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. 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, 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. 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."

The extended meditation on good character probably began as a nod to the president's faith-based initiative and the special importance of Christianity in American life and to the president's voters. But once you mention Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount, somebody is sure to ask: "What about the Koran?" And so in it goes.

The addition, unfortunately, is almost hilariously inapt. If there is one idea above all others that the Koran emphatically rejects it is that right government relies on the "governing of the self." On the contrary, the Koran insists (a) that the self must entirely submit to the will of God and that (b) the best form of government is not self-government, but government by a leader who has likewise submitted his will entirely to God's.

Moreover, is it really true that American self-government is sustained by the words of the Koran?

And finally -- was it tactful to contrast the "truths" of Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount to the "words" of the Koran? Are we suggesting that the words of the Koran -- despite their previously undetected role in sustaining American self-government --are not in fact truths?


The high fat content in this second Bush inaugural suggests to me that something is going seriously wrong in this second Bush White House. The deep problem is not that there were seven extra minutes -- ultimately, who cares about that? The deep problem is that nobody spoke up to excise those seven minutes -- not even the normally deeply time-conscious president. To my mind, the failure to edit this speech is an indication of a broader gathering attenuation of purpose and discipline at the highest levels of the government.

While Frum's criticisms of the President's inappropriate and false affirmation of the Koran and its role in building personal character that reaffirms the American ideal of freedom are well taken, as I've posted here, here, and here, it's inclusion in the speech is not an aspect of a "gathering attenuation of purpose."

The President has long had a blind spot about the dangers of Islam, and has been slower to come to terms with that danger than most. The President and his advisors have learned nothing from their carelessness in allowing him to be photographed with terrorists Sami Al Arian and Abdurahman Alamoudi as part of "Musliim Outreach" during the 2000 Presidential campaign.

That's Alamoudi in the top pic (in back and to the right of Bush, with Khaled Saffuri on the far left) and Sami Al Arian (bald, with glasses) in the lower pic.

Though neither Al Arian nor Alamoudi was arrested until 2003, their sympathies, affiliations, and ongoing investigations for terrorist activities had been public knowledge for years.

So, for that matter, has been President Bush's carelessness with Islam, so it was disappointing, but hardly surprising that he would invoke the Koran in his Inaugural Address.

Getting back to Frum, who was a speechwriter for the President during his first term, above he wrote that in poorly edited speeches "senior officials with particular agendas -- or particular bugaboos -- feel that they can insert" their agendas into those speeches, and that once someone mentions "Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount, somebody is sure to" bring up the Koran.

I wonder if he has someone in mind with that particular agenda.