Bush Raises The Bar

Eight months ago to the day, George W. Bush gave a beautiful inaugural address outside the Capitol and took the title of President. But it wasn't until last night, inside the halls of that great building, that he really became president. The "Islamic extremism" of America's new enemy, President Bush said, is no different from the perverted ideologies of fascism and totalitarianism and is destined for "history's unmarked grave of discarded lies." These points were ordered by Bush himself, White House aides said. And he delivered them with powerful conviction.

Gone were the mangled words, the Texas colloquialisms, the smirk. The only time Bush seemed to betray a smile was at the hall's response to New York's Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sat next to First Lady Laura Bush-another pillar of strength through this national ordeal. The new Bush wears a clenched, resolute jaw. Bush was still his plainspoken self, telling the military, "Be ready," and to Muslims: "We respect your faith." He called for "patient justice." Often his simplicity was beautifully put. "Freedom and fear are at war," he told us. "God is not neutral between them."

The Congress itself sounded more like the British Parliament-with whistles of support and resounding cheers. Perhaps it was having British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the audience, seated next to Mrs. Bush. "America has no truer friend than Great Britain," the president said, setting off one of a score of standing ovations.

Bush sees one of his main jobs as educating the public. He has often used his addresses to give a primer on complicated topics, like stem cells. Last night, he did it again, explaining Al Qaeda-Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization-to America. But his patient schoolteacher tone quickly turned into that of a cross principal. "We condemn the Taliban regime," he said bluntly.

He called for precise action-for the Taliban to not only deliver bin Laden to "U.S. authorities" but the heads of all the Al Qaeda cells operating there. He has set tremendously-some say unrealistically-high goals. He has vowed to end terrorism in every country.

That is a sea change from the message he campaigned on. "We cannot be the world's policeman," Bush used to say. For the foreseeable future, we are. "They will hand over the terrorists or they will share their fate," Bush sent the message to the Taliban last night.

Bush also called for action at home. He finally found a job for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who had once been under consideration for the vice president's job. He will join the Cabinet as our new antiterrorism czar. He saluted those in the audience who had taken action so far-like Todd Beamer, one of the heroes who struggled with the terrorists on the crashed Pennsylvania flight. His widow, Lisa, was in the guest of honor box.

For all the emotional uplift, there were stark reminders of the threat that still exists. The vice president, who would normally sit behind the president during the speech, was in a separate, secure location. And one member of the Cabinet-in this case Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson-was also held separately as a precaution.

The address was for Bush what the "tear down this wall" speech was for Reagan. "I will not forget this wound to our country," Bush sternly concluded, "or those who inflicted it. I will not yield. I will not rest." But unlike Reagan, who's kill-Communism objective was clearly defined, Bush set an amorphously high bar for himself. He has raised expectations for himself-and Americans have raised theirs of him. Last night, he lived up to them. "We have found our mission and our moment," Bush told America. And George W. Bush has found his.