Monday January 21, 2013
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For foreigners, the only thing nuttier than watching the way we elect our Presidents is watching the way we inaugurate them.
For a nation that wears its egalitarianism not just as a badge of honor, but (as we saw this past November) almost as a requirement for office, the pomp and circumstance involved in a modern U.S. Presidential inauguration would have moved Louis XIV to modesty.
Both parties face the same issue: Looking for the balance between demonstrating a public outpouring of interest, if not affection, for the person preparing to take the oath of office without giving your political opponents any more ammunition than necessary.
Too many balls, tickets are too expensive, only the rich and connected can get into the really good stuff … and so on.
For the people who worked for, and/or donated to, the winner they believe they have earned the right to celebrate. And they are correct; they have.
In 2001, the first inaugural for George W. Bush, we had an abbreviated period to put the whole thing together because neither Bush's or Al Gore's team was allowed to start until the Florida recount had been decided.
Second inaugurals are not necessarily easier from the staff side than first inaugurals. In 1993 (Clinton's first), 2001 (W's first), and in 2009 (Barack Obama's first) no political person had been involved in an inauguration in at least eight years so there was almost no institutional memory, but everyone was so excited to be part of the deal that the order of the day was "Pitch in and help."
For second inaugurals, it's turned on its head. Most of the people involved did the one just four years previous, and many have had Administration jobs so the order of the day is "Who said you got to make that decision?"
Whole days can be wasted in determining which cars belong to which staffers so you can tell if someone who has been your junior on the Executive Branch organizational chart has a better parking space at the inaugural committee offices.
No Presidential inauguration would ever come off without the wholehearted support of the military. The President, as you know, is Commander-in-Chief. So a Presidential inaugural is the largest military ceremony with the possible exception of when George Patton went to breakfast.
The Constitution, under the terms of the XX Amendment, calls for the terms of the President and Vice President to end at noon on January 20 following their election. Previously Inauguration Day had been March 4, because March 4, 1789 was the date the Constitution took effect.
Yesterday, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were sworn in at their respective residences, even though the public ceremony will be held today at noon at the Capitol.
It has been the tradition that if Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday, the public events are pushed back one day.
It is not clear to me why it is OK to decide the participants in the NFL Superbowl on a Sunday, but it is not OK to swear in a President and Vice President, but there you are.
The networks will cover the parade like it is the Rose Parade complete with interesting notes and touching anecdotes (likely supplied by the Presidential Inaugural Committee's communications staff).
After the Oath of Office is administered, the President will deliver his Inaugural Address which will be cheered or booed based, not so much on what the President says or doesn't say, but upon what the observer was pre-disposed to think of it.
Far more important than the events of today will be what actually happens in President Obama's second term. There is something known as the "Second Term Curse" which probably doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but when things go badly during a Presidency, it is more likely they will have gone badly in the second term.
Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, to name a few, all blossomed in the Presidents' second terms.
Former New York Times reporter Adam Clymer wrote a summary of these (and second term successes) shortly after the election last fall.
Nevertheless, it will be a glorious day here in Our Nation's Capitol - and it would be even if it were cold and rainy.
It's Inauguration Day and, if nothing else, we should all celebrate the continuity of democracy it represents.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the Adam Clymer piece, to the Wikipedia entry for Presidential Inaugurals, and to a pretty good license plate Mullfoto.
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