In his second inaugural address, in January 2005, Bush outlined a new American goal—“ending tyranny in the world.” Striking a more conciliatory tone than during his first administration, he promised that the United States would not try to impose “our style of government” on others and that it would in the future seek the advice of allies. He said nothing specific about Iraq but tried to shore up falling support for the war by invoking the ideal of freedom: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” In his first inaugural, in January 2001, Bush had used the words “freedom,” “free,” or “liberty” seven times. In his second, they appeared forty-nine times. Again and again, Bush insisted that the United States stands for the worldwide triumph of freedom.

Republicans were overjoyed by Bush’s electoral triumph. “Now comes the revolution,” declared one conservative leader. But the ongoing chaos in Iraq, coupled with a spate of corruption scandals surrounding Republicans in Congress and the White House, eroded Bush’s standing. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff was convicted of perjury in connection with an investigation of the illegal “leak” to the press of the name of a CIA operative whose husband had criticized the manipulation of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq. He was the first White House official to be indicted while holding office since Orville Babcock, Grant’s chief of staff, in 1875. A Texas grand jury indicted Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, for violating campaign finance laws, and Jack Abramoff, a Republican activist and lobbyist, pleaded guilty to defrauding his clients and bribing public officials. A “culture of corruption,” Democrats charged, had overtaken the nation’s capital.

Bush’s popularity continued to decline. At one point in 2006, his approval rating fell to 31 percent. Bush did get Congress in 2005 to extend the life of the Patriot Act, with a few additional safeguards for civil liberties. But otherwise, the first two years of his second term were devoid of significant legislative achievement. Bush launched a highly publicized campaign to “reform” the Social Security system, the most enduring and popular legacy of the New Deal, by allowing workers to set up private retirement accounts—a step toward eliminating the entire system, Democrats charged—but it got nowhere. Congress rejected the president’s proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and it refused to eliminate the estate tax, a tax on property owned at a person’s death, which affected only the richest 1 percent of Americans.

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