Imagine if you would all the way back to 1989. The Iran-Contra affair is a hot political topic. Tensions with the Soviet Union are decreasing. Communist nations are falling left and right. The Berlin Wall is soon to crumble and the Cold War soon to end. George Herbert Walker Bush, or “Old Bush’s” Inaugural Address was a crucial speech among the list of the twentieth-century President’s Inaugural Addresses. George Senior’s Address came at a crossroads not only in American history, but world history.
In it, he used a myriad of figures of speech to enhance its content and revealed underlying themes that occurred not only throughout his speech, but during his presidency as well. The themes he touched on included old classics, freedom, and a rhetorical new breeze bringing in change. Let’s look a little further into the history of and behind Bush One and his Inaugural Address. George Herbert Walker Bush was the forty-first President of the United States of America – as such, he is often referred to as “Bush 41” to separate him from his son – “Bush 43,” the forty-third president.
Bush 41 is the oldest surviving President today. His father served in the United States Senate and two of his sons have also been involved in politics. His family definitely is one of public service. In fact, at the time he was honored, George H. W. Bush was the youngest pilot ever in the Air Force. He later graduated from Yale and moved to West Texas where shortly thereafter, he became a millionaire by age 40 by way of the oil business. I know, shocking, those Bushes and their darn oil.
After striking it rich, he attempted to run for the Presidency in 1980, eventually being beaten out in the Republican Primary by Ronald Reagan. Reagan turned around and named “old” Bush his running mate and George H. W. served as Vice President from 1980-1988. He again ran for President in 1988, this time earning the Republican nomination and beating out the Democrat candidate, Michael Dukakis, in the general election. His Presidency was known for that of its foreign policy, most notably the Persian Gulf War and in military action in Panama dealing with General Manuel Noriega.
In addition to content, the speech itself includes a piece of interesting historical trivia: it was celebrated as the bicentennial anniversary (January 20, 1989) of George Washington’s initial Presidential oath of office and the oath repeated the same words Washington spoke and used the same Bible. With that historical context, let’s move on to the content. Figures of speech such as metaphors, similes and anaphora can really enhance the content of a speech and provide a lovely mind picture for the listener. Bush the elder did a fantastic job of using these figures of speech to his advantage throughout his Inaugural Address.
Some of his better metaphors included “We meet on democracy’s front porch, a good place to talk as neighbors and as friends. ” Continue with, “But this is a time when the future seems a door you can walk right through into a room called tomorrow. ” And finally,”… nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom. Men and women of the world move toward free markets through the door to prosperity. The people of the world agitate for free expression and free thought through the door to the moral and intellectual satisfactions that only liberty allows. Through these quotes its apparent that Bush is a master of the metaphor, beautifully illustrating the setting. He paints a tangible word picture that’s easy to relate to – it’s as though the listeners literally are on the front porch about to walk through said doors with him. A couple of my favorite similes he used during his speech include, “The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. “
And, “For democracy belongs to us all, and freedom is like a beautiful kite that can go higher and higher with the breeze. I enjoyed these two similes, well a) because most of the similes you hear today are found in rap music, so it’s refreshing when a crotchety old white man uses them instead of Lil’ Weezy, and on a more serious note b) because they again paint vivid imagery and literally transport the listener to a place of common understanding rather than presenting complicated – and often dry and abstract – facts and information . Now that I’ve presented some of the figures of speech used by H. W. throughout his speech, let’s now move on to the themes unveiled throughout his speech. Old” Bush’s term, as previously noted, was highlighted by the end of the Cold War, the fall of communism (for the most part) and the toppling of the Berlin Wall. It’s apparent the world was undergoing a dramatic amount of change. This change, according to Bush 41, was ushered in by “a new breeze,” as referenced throughout his address on multiple occasions — four to be exact. Another theme common throughout his address was the idea of freedom. He mentions freedom, free markets and free expression in my previous quote about going through the door to blank.
He references freedom multiple times again in a following paragraph, “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state. ” Obviously, H-Dubs was trying to make a point about freedom, repeating the words “freedom” and “free” so often during the same paragraph, providing an important series of queues to listeners that this is an important theme to his speech.
This theme was more, however, than a reiteration of American values. For a generation or more, the U. S. shared the world superpower stage with the U. S. S. R, but their time on the world stage was ending. Bush was not only setting up his desired theme for his administration, but was also setting the new world stage and working to make it clear that democracy – freedom – won the ideological war. Rather than staring down an equal enemy, we must now begin to bring the second and third worlds onto our porch and through our doors.
In the end, let’s look at George Herbert Walker Bush’s Inaugural Address through an historical scope. If we focus the scope on the figures of speech present throughout the address and on the themes presented during the speech, it becomes clear the address was an important one to the course of American history. In a time of great global change, Bush pushed for a traditional American value – freedom – to return to the forefront. While the older Bush’s term only lasted four years, his Inaugural Address was crucial and sorely needed at that point in our nation’s history.