WASHINGTON - In a city brimming with pageantry under fortress-like security, President Bush looked ahead Wednesday to his second inauguration, pledging to forge unity in a nation divided by political differences. "I am eager and ready for the work ahead," Bush declared.
In his inaugural address today, Bush will tell the country that events and common sense have led him 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 White House on Wednesday night released excerpts of the speech Bush will give after his swearing-in at the Capitol.
The threat of terrorism prompted what authorities promised would be the tightest inaugural security ever deployed. A half-million people were expected to throng the city for the swearing-in and the traditional parade along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.
The thunder of fireworks on the Ellipse began an inauguration-eve night of pageantry and parties for Bush, his wife, Laura, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne. With a fresh snow blanketing city streets and the temperature in the low 20s, the Bushes and Cheneys sat outdoors on a heated stage at a musical extravaganza called "A Celebration of Freedom."
"This is the cause that unites our country and gives hope to the world and will lead us to a future of peace," Bush told the crowd. "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause."
Inauguration is a time of unity for our country, the president said.
"With the campaign behind us, Americans lift up our sights to the years ahead and to the great goals we will achieve for our country. I am eager and ready for the work ahead."
The president and his wife began the day by reflecting on history, visiting the U.S. Archives to view the nation's most treasured historical documents, including George Washington's handwritten, first inaugural address. They also paused to see the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Bush, 58, was "focused, upbeat, optimistic" about his new term, said Karl Rove, the architect of the president's re-election campaign and a longtime confidant. "Anybody who's concerned about creating a legacy will fall short if he's not focused . . . on the right policy and service to the country. And let history take care of itself."
At noon today on the West Front of the Capitol, Bush will place his hand on a family Bible - the same one he used in 2001 - and be sworn in for a second term, a sequel to four turbulent years marked by the nation's worst terrorist attack, a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and a war in Iraq.
Bush begins his new term with the lowest approval rating at that point of any recent two-term president - 49 percent in an Associated Press poll this month.