The Pomp and Circumstance of the Inauguration

Congressional Quarterly’s comprehensive “Guide to the
Presidency” helpfully explains that “the only part of the inaugural
ceremony that is required by the Constitution is the taking of the
oath of office.” If only somebody had bothered to check, we could
have wrapped it all up Sunday when Chief Justice John Roberts swore
Barack Obama in for his second term, and spared ourselves an extra
day’s worth of pomp, circumstance and dreadful poetry.After his swearing-in, “Calvin Coolidge simply went to bed in
1925.” George Washington’s admirably brief second inaugural clocks
in at 135 words. But modern presidents fail to appreciate that for
presidential inaugurations, as with presidential activism, less is
more. In his first inaugural, in 1993, Bill Clinton suggested that
the ritual of presidential anointment brings hope and life to the
world: “This ceremony is held in the depth of winter. But, by the
words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the
spring.”In his unsettling second inaugural, in the midst of two bloody
and seemingly endless wars, an unfazed George W. Bush pledged
America to “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”Four years ago in his first inaugural, a newly anointed
President Obama promised a transformational presidency that would
“wield technology’s wonders” and “harness the sun and the winds.”
He decried “the cynics” who dared to “question the scale of our
ambitions, who suggest our system cannot tolerate too many big
plans.”This time around, the president seems not to have adjusted the
scale of his ambitions downward. Columnist Steve Chapman summed it
up on Twitter: “Shorter Obama inaugural speech: I’m a liberal. Deal
with it.”Would that it had been shorter. Though most of yesterday’s
address was a high-minded word-souffle, light on specific policy
prescriptions, several passages stuck out. For example: “We reject
the belief that America must choose between caring for the
generation that built this country and investing in the generation
that will build its future.”That’s an odd response to fiscal reality from the president of
the self-styled “reality-based community.” As my colleague Mike
Tanner noted recently, “if one includes the full future unfunded
liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, our real indebtedness
could run as high as $129 trillion in current dollars.””The path towards sustainable energy sources … [is] what will
lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.” I’d thought
it was pretty brazen when Energy Secretary Steven Chu dismissed the
taxpayers’ half-billion-dollar loss in the Solyndra debacle by
saying, “One has to take risks in order to promote innovative
manufacturing.” But at least Chu stopped short of invoking
Jefferson for the administration’s pet green energy schemes.”Enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual
war.” It’s more brazen still to hear a denunciation of “perpetual
war” from the president who has institutionalized it. In the
investigative report from The Washington Post
last fall that introduced us to the term “disposition matrix”
(Obama-Newspeak for “presidential kill list”), we learned that
“among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad
consensus that [drone-warfare] operations are likely to be extended
at least another decade … no clear end is in sight.”Might I recommend, as a post-inaugural hangover cure, my new
False Idol? In it, I suggest that “Obama’s failure might,
to borrow one of the president’s favorite phrases, serve as a
‘teachable moment,’ encouraging Americans to better align our
expectations with reality.”A president’s magic words cannot “force the spring” to come
earlier, “end tyranny in our world,” suspend budgetary math or make
the current welfare-warfare state affordable. It’s past time we
learned that lesson.This article
originally appeared at The Washington Examiner.

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The Pomp and Circumstance of the Inauguration

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