Thursday night in his convention acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination, incumbent George Bush rolled the dice and placed his bet on liberty. In the first half, he slogged through the obligation to lay out his domestic agenda for a second term. While necessary, such details won’t stir an audience’s emotions or inspire and challenge them like previous convention speakers had already done.
But then the president switched to address his message not just to the American audience, but included the rest of the world.
Things suddenly got a lot more intense interesting and powerful.
Bush boldly and passionately asserted his belief that, if given an opportunity to choose, people of all cultures and religions will choose freedom.
Depending upon what the future holds in the Middle East, the second half of Bush’s speech may or may not be remembered by Arabs 20 years from now in the same way that Black Americans today remember Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 41 years ago.
But Bush touched a nerve when he took up the very American themes of liberty and freedom. These themes are the subject of countless poems, songs and essays. One song that I particularly like is titled Let Freedom Ring. Written by Gloria Gaither and sung especially movingly by Larnelle Harris, the song begins:
Deep within, the heart has always known that there was freedom,
Somehow breathed into the very soul, alive.
The prisoner, the powerless, the saved have always known it
There’s something that keeps reaching for the sky.
But some may question Bush’s assumption of the universality of the thirst for freedom; whether that “something” does, indeed, keep “reaching for the sky.” Some think the impulse is unique to Western thinking; that it is something foreign to the Eastern mind.
The poet thinks otherwise, and continues:
Even life begins because a baby fights for freedom.
Certainly infants in the birth canal have no cultural predispositions. Time and again, we see demonstrations of the will to live where someone lives against all odds. Nearly everyone who works with the sick and dying can tell stories of persons from premature infants to the elderly who should have died, but against all odds, fought stubbornly for life and won.
Can this tenacious quest for life be separated from the desire for liberty?
Some have walked through fire and flood to find a place of freedom,
And, some faced hell itself, for freedom’s dream.
It is this streak in human nature, this thirst for life and freedom that Bush claims has the power to ultimately prevail over tyranny. That, of course, has been the American experience first for whites and ultimately for minorities.
Bush’s critics, however, question the odds that our experience can be replicated in other cultures. They are right to demand evidence regarding the odds that democracy can transform societies that rest on a very different cultural foundation than our own. Bush’s response is:
I believe that millions in the Middle East plead in silence for their liberty. I believe that, given the chance, they will embrace the most honorable form of government ever devised by man. I believe all these things because freedom is not America’s gift to the world; it is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in this world.
The vigorous assertion of his beliefs, however laudable they may be, is not the evidence that Bush’s critics demand.
Still, we know that Gandhi’s beliefs proved an irresistible force that ultimately brought independence and democracy to India. More recently, we have seen the example of the power of the spirit and ideas of an imprisoned Nelson Mandela in South Africa, of Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic, Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland.
And this list is far from exhaustive.
For hard evidence, we can also look to the second half of the 20th century when democracy took root in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, to name just three Asian countries whose cultural values and traditions are vastly different from our own. And Turkey has demonstrated that democracy can take hold in the Middle East in a predominantly Muslim country. This leaves us to ponder the odds for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Perhaps Bush’s views are like the poet’s because of their shared experience:
God built freedom into every fiber of creation
And He meant for us to all be free and whole.
When my Lord bought freedom with the blood of His Redemption,
His cross stamped “pardon” on my very soul.
This example of the personal becoming political is certainly not one that will set well with Bush’s liberal foes. The ACLU and their ilk want all instances of religious faith banned from the public arena.
But it is faith that inspires; that strengthens; that makes believers cry out from the bottom of their hearts and with all their might:
Let freedom ring wherever minds know what it means to be in chains!
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain!
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key!
The Son has made us free, and free indeed!
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., is spokesperson for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. She covered both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions.