WASHINGTON — In a city brimming with pageantry under fortress-like security, President Bush looked ahead Wednesday to his second inauguration, pledging to forge unity in a nation divided by political differences.
In his inaugural address today, Bush will tell the country that events and common sense have led him to one conclusion: “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.”
The threat of terrorism prompted what authorities promised would be the tightest inaugural security ever deployed. A half-million people were expected to throng the city for the swearing-in and the traditional parade along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.
The thunder of fireworks on the Ellipse began an inauguration-eve night of pageantry and parties for Bush, his wife, Laura, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne. With a fresh snow blanketing city streets and the temperature in the low 20s, the Bushes and Cheneys sat outdoors on a heated stage at a musical extravaganza called “A Celebration of Freedom.”
“This is the cause that unites our country and gives hope to the world and will lead us to a future of peace,” Bush told the crowd. “We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause.”
The president and his wife began the day by reflecting on history, visiting the U.S. Archives for about 15 minutes to view the nation’s most treasured historical documents, including George Washington’s handwritten, first inaugural address. They also paused to see the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Bush, 58, was “focused, upbeat, optimistic” about his new term, said Karl Rove, the architect of the president’s re-election campaign and a longtime confidant. “Anybody who’s concerned about creating a legacy will fall short if he’s not focused ... on the right policy and service to the country. And let history take care of itself.”
After the fireworks, the Bushes and Cheneys were the guests of honor at three “candlelight dinners” for the biggest donors to the inauguration, which was expected to cost more than $40 million. Dinner tickets were distributed to those who chipped in $100,000 or more. In addition, the Bushes were joining partygoers at the first of the week’s inaugural galas, the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots Ball.
At noon Eastern Standard Time today on the West Front of the Capitol, Bush will place his hand on a family Bible — the same one he used in 2001 — and be sworn in for a second term, a sequel to four turbulent years marked by the nation’s worst terrorist attack, a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and a war in Iraq that has claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Americans.
Bush begins his new term with the lowest approval rating at that point of any recent two-term president — 49 percent in an Associated Press poll this month. Iraq is the dominant concern of Americans, and Bush is the first U.S. president to be inaugurated in wartime since Richard Nixon in 1973.
While history shows that few inaugural addresses are memorable, Bush and his speechwriters have worked extensively on the remarks. His speech had gone through 21 drafts as of Wednesday afternoon and was timed at 17 minutes. The address was designed to be inspirational, leaving new initiatives to be spelled out in the president’s State of the Union speech on Feb. 2.
In his speech, Bush will talk of America’s “need of idealism and courage” and how the nation must protect its own freedoms.
Wednesday, members of the Bush clan roamed the White House. Bush’s parents, his three brothers and sister — in fact, 146 family members in all — gathered on the State Floor for a luncheon. Former President Bush led a tour of the West Wing and ducked into the press briefing room with a wave to journalists who looked up in surprise at the sound of his familiar voice.
Outside, Pennsylvania Avenue had been turned into a canyon of bleachers for the inaugural parade. Manhole covers were welded shut and traffic was blocked from 100 blocks of city streets near inaugural events. Across the city, concrete barriers and steel security fences restricted pedestrians. Security officials using high-tech monitors kept watch on key sites. The president and his wife spent about 15 minutes at the Archives, viewing historical documents. Asked if he was feeling the history of the moment, Bush turned to reporters and said, “Absolutely.”