How not to give an inaugural address.

Politics and policy.
Jan. 18 2005 10:31 PM

How Not To Give an Inaugural

Lessons from 216 years of history online.

Presidential inaugurations, once quiet affairs that lasted part of a day, now sprawl across the calendar. The 55th Presidential Inaugural comes with a 116-page media guide and its own theme, "Celebrating Freedom & Honoring Service." Thursday, the day of President Bush's second swearing-in, is called "Inauguration Day," in order to distinguish it from the rest of the weeklong inaugural festivities. The official events began Tuesday, with a tribute to the U.S. military and a titled-by-committee "youth event" called "America Rocks the Future: A Call to Service," which included the Bush twins, Ruben Studdard, and former New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn among its eminences.

We've come a long way from George Washington's second inauguration, which featured a 135-word address that consisted mostly of the first president giving himself stage directions: "Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence." Now we even have "counterinaugurals," presumably designed to protest the costly, wasteful spectacle by throwing a costly, wasteful spectacle.

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Despite the changes over the years, however, the 54 inaugurations prior to this one share a lot in common, as outlined by former Clinton administration speechwriter and occasional Slate contributor Ted Widmer in "So Help Me God," a delightful article in the Winter 2005 issue of the American Scholar. Widmer distills the typical inaugural address to 10 bullet points:

1. I am not worthy of this great honor.

2. But I congratulate the people that they elected me.

3. Now we must all come together, even those of us who really hate each other.

4. I love the Constitution, the Union, and George Washington.

5. I will work against bad threats.

6. I will work for good things.

7. We must avoid entangling alliances.