After one term, George W. Bush is turning out to be the most consequential U.S. President since Ronald Reagan. We're hoping he can show equal initiative regarding the great moral issues that face our nation.
Even opponents recognize Bush has accomplished a great deal already: implementing the Department of Homeland Security, launching democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, reforming education, cutting taxes, and shepherding the economy out of recession. Conservatives have been pleased that he signed the first piece of federal legislation to restrict abortion since Roe v. Wade, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban (now tied up in the courts), and that he also pushed to remove barriers to federal support of faith-based charities.
Now he wants to accomplish even more. Last night, in the annual State of the Union address, he laid out an ambitious second-term agenda. Two items of note:
First, Bush praised the Iraqi people and American soldiers for their heroism in making democracy possible. The President noted, "The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom."
Fortunately, the President is the commander in chief, not the theologian in chief. Political rhetoric aside, Christians know that human freedom cannot bring lasting peace and prosperityonly the sovereign Lord of history can do that. Nor can freedom fill our greatest need, which is peace with God. That being said, we rejoice in the spread of political freedom around the world and pray it will lead not only to shalom with neighbor but increased opportunities for shalom with God.
Second, Bush spoke on saving Social Security. In this, he has shown unusual boldness. Most politicians have feared to touch this third rail of American politics.
"The system," he said, "on its current path, is headed toward bankruptcy. And so we must join together to strengthen and save Social Security."
Where's the Life?
Viewers who had to tuck their kids into bed may have missed the President's brief remarks on life issues, wedged as they were between the speech's far more detailed sections on Social Security and political freedom. Does this suggest that now that Mr. Bush, who ran on a pro-life platform, has safely won a second term, he is less than eager to spend some of his "political capital" to defend the sanctity of human life and marriage? We hope not.
Yet, in an hour-long address, the President devoted but two short paragraphs to what we'd broadly call "life issues" (for lack of a better term). The words were good, but they were too few if he is really serious about building a "culture of life." This brevity in the midst of the nation's unfolding moral confusion is unsettling. Why is he bold and visionary on economic issues that may affect our children and grandchildren, but strangely reticent on the very definitions of human life and community? While "values voters" certainly care about Social Security, they didn't return Bush to office on this basis.
Granted, the President is not the nation's senior pastor. But his words and actions can set a tone that allows a culture of life to flourish.
On gay marriage, during the campaign, the President repeatedly affirmed his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which limits the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Supporters say the FMA is needed because federal judges are likely to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton to keep marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.
But after the election, Bush said there are not enough votes in the Senate to pass the FMAdespite Majority Leader Bill Frist's strong backingand that he would wait and see if DOMA can do the job after all.
We are grateful for at least the few words Bush reiterated last night in support of the FMA. We await some concrete actions to back them up.
On abortion, President Bush was clear that he expects his pro-life judicial nominees to get an up or down vote. We hope to see more qualified pro-life nominees serving in the nation's federal court system, including the Supreme Court.
Further, the President should build on the success of the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Several items would place some common-sense restrictions on abortion, including the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act and the Child Custody Protection Act, which bans transporting minors across state lines to obtain abortions.
Also, we would like to see President Bush build a culture of life by speaking out more forcefully and frequently on the issue. (He did not even mention the word abortion last night.) He can be eloquent about freedom. We assume he could be equally eloquent about protecting the lives of the most vulnerable in the world: the unborn.
On bioethics, President Bush said strongly that "we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others." States such as New Jersey and California are hell-bent to attract scientists and research dollars for embryonic stem-cell research. The American public remains confused about the difference between adult stem-cell research, which involves no destruction of human life, and embryonic stem-cell research, which does.
Bush needs to spell out the difference clearly. Last night he began this task by saying, "I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts, and that human life is never bought and sold as a commodity."
Bush should take the next step and push for the Cloning Prohibition Act. The only way to stop the growing momentum to clone a human being is to outlaw it.
Political issues such as reforming Social Security and encouraging democracy overseas are worthy challengesboth of which in broad terms we support. But we dare not neglect the issues that touch upon the foundations of human dignity and the family. What will it profit us if we gain retirement benefits and freedom and lose our national soul?
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