Inauguration Days in History

Inauguration Day is traditionally the day when Democrats and Republicans put aside partisan differences and become AMERICANS FIRST, celebrating respect for law and the rightful choice of the American people in the previous November’s election. In January 2001, that traditional ritual really didn’t occur — there were thousands of passionate protesters on the street, still angry at the “selection, not election” of the President just a month earlier.

Four years later, George W. Bush got from ardent Democrats what they would not give him as he began his first term — grudging respect — a concession that this time, his Presidency is NO ACCIDENT, a concession that their portrayals of him as dumb and stupid were too harsh, a willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt on Iraq and the economy for a period of time. For if he is wrong, WE ALL LOSE. We all have to hope he is right and those of us who have been his critics have been wrong, for our own sakes, for the sake of our nation.

The cartoonist Herblock on Richard Nixon’s second inauguration day in 1973 gave him a “clean shave” — no longer portrayed him with shifty eyes, crooked-looking “five o’clock shadow.” It didn’t last, of course. Within six months, eye-deep in the Watergate scandal, Nixon grew a new “five o’clock shadow,’ from Herblock’s point of view. But the “clean shave exercise,” offering an olive branch to those we disagree with politically, is an important tradition.

Witty cynics have described the ritual of marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience.” The ritual of inauguration day might also be described as “the triumph of hope over experience.” Most presidencies in my lifetime have started out with high hopes, and ended in disappointment, if not downright disillusionment.

Perhaps our stance should be to EXPECT very little good from this President, then we are unlikely to be disappointed. We might even be pleasantly surprised. Four years from now, maybe we will be able to say, “he wasn’t as bad as i expected him to be.”

In any event, I do enjoy the commentators’ recollections of previous inaugural addresses:Wh9

  • President William Henry Harrison in 1841 gave a 8000 word-inaugural address, which lasted one hour and 45 minutes. He wore no hat, no overcoat, caught pneumonia, and died a month later — the nation’s shortest presidency.
  • President Franklin Pierce, in 1853, gave an inaugural address of 3,319 words completely from memory — no notes whatsoever. This was the chief accomplishment of his presidency. He had no other significant accomplishments.
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