However well deserved, Time Magazine’s designation of the U. S. soldier as its “Person of the Year” somehow struck me as curious—a combination of intentional oversight and begrudging acknowledgement of George W. Bush’s dominance of the world stage in 2003. Not that I would detract from the honor and courage with which our young men and women have served and succeeded and have helped restore the tradition of the American warrior class, but their commander-in-chief was clearly the transcending personality, a fact which I suspect Time’s editors were loathe to admit.More than one editorialist, Tom Friedman most prominently, have compared Bush with Lincoln, at least in the degree to which he has had his greatness thrust upon him by circumstance and, more importantly, has responded by finding a higher moral purpose in the midst of war. In a seminar on the second anniversary of 9-11-01, Craig Stevens Wilder of Dartmouth College remarked that the attack on America that day was somewhat analogous to Lincoln’s assassination, a shocking reminder and restoration of the view of America with a special destiny and mission. And it has occurred to me many times since that day that America’s exceptionalism is manifest in many ways, but no more than in its valuation of human life and human freedom universally. This was a major area of political and moral conflict in Lincoln’s time and it is today at the core of the war on terror. George Bush knows this. Listen to him at Whitehall in London last November: “The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest” and “It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.” Listen to him at the Coast Guard Academy last June: “The advance of freedom is more than an interest we pursue; it is a calling we follow. Our country was created in the name and cause of freedom, and if the self-evident truths of our founding are true for us, they are true for all…” And catch up with his speech on natural right at Goree Island in Senegal, the former collection point for African slaves on their way to the New World. It ranks with the truly historic. Do you hear an echo of Gettysburg here? Person of the Year? No contest.
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