The huge crowd, which had to face multiple barriers of police and the biting cold of this January 20, had their eyes riveted on the steps of the imposing U.S. Capitol building. As midday arrived, the time had come for George Bush to take the oath. Opposite him, stood William Rehnquist, the 80 year-old chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Suffering from thyroid cancer, the old magistrate's machine-assisted breathing could be heard over the many loudspeakers from several hundred meters away.
Between the belabored breaths of the judge, George W. Bush, his hand on the Bible, slowly repeats an oath, which hasn't changed since the nomination of the first president of the United States in 1789, George Washington.
In the speech that followed, the 58-years-old Bush, issued a clarion call of freedom around the world: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."
A Messianic Tone
The president, who repeated the word "freedom" more than forty times in 20 minutes, put forth his speech with Messianic zeal, promising that "one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."
Amidst the cheers of the crowd, he said that the " United States will seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
For his second term, George Bush has an ambitious program: abroad, he wants to conclude the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq. But not once did he mention in his speech the words "terrorism" or "Iraq," preferring instead to speak of the combat against "hatred," "violence" and "tyranny."
At home, the president wants privatize part of the retirement system [Social Security], reform the tax system and raise the level of education. Ideas that he mentioned without explicitly naming them in his speech: "We will increase the number of homeowners, heads of companies, holders of savings accounts and health insurance, in order to prepare our citizens for the challenges of the life in a free society."
Within 30 feet, or ten meters of the podium, John Kerry listened. Booed on his arrival, the Democratic ex- presidential candidate and current senator of Massachusetts, smiled for the inauguration of the man that he dreamed of replacing. The Clintons were there, too, after a presidential campaign of ceaseless criticism of the Bush administration. But on this Thursday morning, it is a time of unity on the steps of the Capitol.
Not for everyone however, because George W. Bush remains a president who has failed to achieve unity in the United States. And his re-election failed to change that. According to a CNN survey this week, 49% of Americans think that he is a divider, and 49% who think just the opposite. His level of popularity hardly exceeds 50%, that is to say well below that of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan at the time of their re-elections.
During Bush's speech, one hears a group of demonstrators sing their refusal, carefully restrained by a police and military cordon without precedent.