Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson thinks it was overreaching--that is, until a radio debate with Hugh Hewitt caused Robinson to change his mind.
Another former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, was not very happy about the speech, thinking the speech too utopianistic and God-drenched.
Al Mohler and Chuck Colson both have summaries. I think Colson is right when he observes that "the address marked an extraordinary moment for the conservative movement. One White House insider told me this week that, in his opinion, Bush is seizing the mantle of idealism from contemporary liberalism." It should be an interesting four years.
Finally, James Taranto of OpinionJournal.com's Best of the Web responds to Noonan's critique:
First, those who fault Bush for an excess of idealism, or an insufficiency of realism, are not grappling with the conceptual breakthrough of his speech, which is to declare the idealism-realism dichotomy a false choice. A key passage:
We are led, by events and common sense, 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 lesson Bush drew from Sept. 11 is that "realism" is unrealistic--that the "stability" that results from an accommodation with tyranny is illusory. To Bush, there is no fundamental conflict between American ideals and American interests; by promoting the former, we secure the latter. Maybe he'll turn out to be wrong, but for now the burden ought to be on those who, in the wake of Sept. 11, hold to a pre-9/11 view of what is "realistic."
Noonan is right that "ending tyranny in the world" is a fantastically ambitious aspiration, one that isn't going to be realized anytime soon. But Bush didn't promise to do it in the next four years or even in our lifetimes. He said it was "the ultimate goal" and "the concentrated work of generations."
"We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery," Bush said--not the only point in his speech in which he invoked the struggle against slavery. And it isn't the first speech in which he made that connection. As he put it in a July 2003 speech at Senegal's Goree Island:
My nation's journey toward justice has not been easy and it is not over. The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destination is set: liberty and justice for all. . . .
With the power and resources given to us, the United States seeks to bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is suffering, and liberty where there is tyranny.
Slavery was once an accepted fact of life, and ending it even in America was an epic struggle. Today, however, slavery has been legally abolished everywhere in the world, and it is still practiced only in a few backward lands. One could argue that slavery still exists, in different forms: child labor, prostitution, communism. Perfection is indeed impossible, but progress is still worth pursuing.