It's hard to be too enthusiastic about the stirring inaugural address with which George Bush started his term Friday as this nation's 41st president.
Setting a tone rather than outlining an agenda, it exuded good will and optimism while appealing to Americans' penchant for idealism.In constructive remarks that contrasted sharply with the tough tenor of the recent election campaign, President Bush in essence amplified his pledge last August to lead a "kinder, gentler nation" as Ronald Reagan's successor.
Issuing a call for individual Americans to volunteer their services to their country, Bush made a welcome appeal for a new bipartisanship in making hard choices on the budget and in dealing with such difficult problems as poverty, homelessness, crime, and drug abuse.
But first, in his initial act as chief executive, President Bush offered a prayer in the opening moments of his address, a prayer in which he thanked God for America's blessings and asked God to "write on our hearts these words: `Use power to help people.' "
No wonder the address is receiving rave reviews not just from Bush's fellow Republicans but from the Democratic leadership he must work with on Capitol Hill and even from the man he defeated, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Let's hope Congress was listening when Dukakis not only urged all Americans to rally around Bush, but also said the new President deserves a honeymoon of at least six months to a year before the critics start passing judgment on his performance.
The good feelings - reflected in a new poll showing that Bush enters office with a strong 65 percent approval rating - obviously won't last long. Those feelings will be severely tested on Capitol Hill in the approaching negotiations over budget priorities. But certainly President Bush has been dealt a strong hand with which to start his new administration.
From Ronald Reagan, Bush is inheriting a presidency strengthened markedly by the work and character of the departed chief executive. And Bush has inherited a long stretch of prosperity plus a relatively peaceful world, with some prospect of reaching a strategic arms control agreement with the new regime in Russia.
Unhappily, the new President also is inheriting unprecedentedly huge budget and trade deficits that will severely restrict George Bush's ability to fund domestic and other initiatives, particularly if he sticks to his pledge not to increase taxes.
And he inherits some serious and costly problems that demand prompt action. Among them are the nation's faltering savings and loan system, which may cost as much as $120 billion to stabilize, and the need to clean up and modernize the nation's nuclear weapons factories at an estimated cost of $81 billion.
The immediate press of these and other such problems may make it difficult for President Bush to score early victories that would mark him as a dynamic leader. But, to the extent that his inaugural address is any indication, the potential for dynamic leadership is certainly there.
Meanwhile, the best conclusion to this comment on the inaugural address is the ending of the address itself: "God bless the United States of America." To which let us add, God bless President George Bush.