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The Age of Liberty: Bush’s New Frontier
by Aaron Goldstein
18 November 2003G.W.

As John F. Kennedy, Jr. knew, and George W. Bush knows, liberty is a principle worth fighting for.

Later this month will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.    

People from all over America and the world have paid tribute to Kennedy over the years.  I recall my father telling me that his mother lit a candle after his assassination.  A rather unusual gesture, as it is a Jewish tradition reserved for the passing of other Jews.  Kennedy was of course, a Catholic.    

In 1988, when visiting Israel, there was a memorial at John F. Kennedy Park outside of Jerusalem.  The memorial consisted of 50 wooden pillars representing each U.S. state in the shape of a tree stump.  Our guide asked us its meaning.  I raised my hand and replied, “It symbolizes that he was cut down in the prime of his life.”    

I lived in London for the first half of 1995 at the International Students House on Great Portland Street just off Marylebone Road across the street from Regents Park and just down the road from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.   At the side of the residence there sat a bust and plaque commemorating JFK.

For the past three and a half years, I have called Boston home.  I live within walking distance of JFK’s birthplace on 85 Beals Street in neighboring Brookline. There is also the JFK Presidential Library and Museum not far from the University of Massachusetts Boston.  On many a Sunday while listening to Boston Red Sox games on my walkman, I will end up at JFK Memorial Park facing the Charles River near Harvard Square.

JFK remains a figure that represents youth, vitality, optimism the world over. In America JFK is admired for his Presidency by people of both liberal and conservative tendencies.

Sadly, while President Bush is held in high esteem by conservatives and in certain parts of the United States, in other parts of this country (including my own) and in much of the world, President Bush is perceived as a pariah greater than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.    He is sometimes compared to Adolf Hitler -- unfavorably.

Of course, I suspect that those who hold this sentiment have lived their whole lives in freedom and have never known a day of tyranny in their lives.  And no, an increase in tuition fees is not an act of tyranny.

One can hope that history will grace President Bush more kindly.    Historians may look upon President Bush’s speech on November 6th to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C. in a manner favorable to JFK’s vision of a New Frontier four decades ago.

Indeed, President Bush had history on his mind when he made these remarks:

Historians in the future will reflect on an extraordinary, undeniable fact: Over time, free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker.  In the middle of the 20th Century, some imagined that the central planning and social regimentation were a shortcut to national strength. In fact, the prosperity, and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by the extent of their liberty.   Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity – and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations.   Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on earth.

Because of humanity’s inherent desire for freedom, President Bush argues that it is only a matter of time before democracy comes forth in countries like Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and China.  Of course, much of the President’s focus was on the Middle East. There are critics who believe that democracy will never take root in the Middle East.   But President Bush reminded his audience that similar sentiments had been echoed in Japan and Germany after World War II and in former British colonies such as India.   President Bush argued that democracy is not an end but rather a means:

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are “ready” for democracy – as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress.   In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress.   It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences.

Of course, one might ask if democracy is not an end then what is the end?   President Bush would reply, “We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty.”   

Sadly many Americans do not give this much thought and who can blame them. They do not have to do so.  Consequently, it is easy for Americans to describe America and the President as “fascist” “racist” or “a Nazi.”  The Americans who fought the Nazis, the fascists and racists first hand and understand what they were about are dying and too many of us are willing to rely on second hand definitions of these terms at face value.

This is why it is so important to understand the experiences of Jews in the former Soviet Union who were forbidden from practicing their religion or the experiences of Christians in the Sudan who were sold into slavery by Fundamentalist Islamic governments.  America has given these people an opportunity unknown in their own country. In America, they can live their lives as they see fit and are not at the mercy of an arbitrary capricious government.

But President Bush believes that can change.  President Bush believes that America and the world are in an age of liberty. For the Middle East and other parts of the world, liberty is a new frontier.  Of course, it will not be easy.  Reversing decades and centuries of authoritarian and totalitarian rule is not an overnight proposition.    Exploring new frontiers is often arduous and at times perilous.   Ordinary activities are death-defying acts of courage.   One only need read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to appreciate that sentiment.  But liberty is a principle that is worth fighting for. JFK understood it. President Bush understands it.   When liberty flourishes in the Middle East perhaps one day President Bush’s critics will understand as well.  Perhaps then he will be admired the world over.

Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.

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