Inauguration Eve: What Will Tomorrow's Address Bring?
It would be wrong to say that a portending silence has settled over conservatives on this inauguration eve. Is the American Right ever silent? Too many talking heads, politicians, journalists and (as in this space) sleepless bloggers to say that, a characterization which would, in any event, count as mere melodrama.
And it would be wrong to ask of this second coming, what rough beast slouches towards Washington to be born? The great sentinels of our nation -- the Constitution and its processes and, as Lincoln noted, the people's love of liberty -- have kept rough beasts at bay for two and a quarter centuries. Surely they will yet.
But still, for many on the Right, this is a moment of disquiet. A television commentator asks a former Reagan speechwriter, what does one say in an inaugural address? Well, the answer comes, there is what I WOULD say and what he WILL say.
I would model the speech after the second inaugurals of Clinton and Reagan, with notes of Lincoln. Reach out to the opposition party and its leaders. Acknowledge that we are all sincere and all imperfect, that we all see as through a glass darkly, that in this larger process of seeking the country's way we all have a role, that he (the re-inaugurated president) respects this. That is the tone he SHOULD adopt, but not the one he will.
Instead, I expect something like FDR's second inaugural address -- ideological, confrontational, taking every opportunity, both candidly and slyly, to demonize his essential negotiating partners of the coming months. Oh, yes, he will talk of national unity and renewal. Invoking King and Lincoln, he will call for putting many divisions and injustices of the past forever behind us. We will all share this sentiment, for ending racial divisions firmly and finally is a consummation that all Americans feel is devoutly to be wish. But I expect these moments will be framed to work as set ups, maneuvering Republicans into places of disadvantage. As with Roosevelt in 1937, the president, I expect, will press a radically "progressive" (as his supporters will call it, though another time I'll tell you why I see it as radically reactionary) agenda using at times a strikingly negative tone.
So I expect that tomorrow, rare in American history, a reelected president will present himself as the leader of a faction rather than of a country. On one level the inaugural address will stir all Americans. On another level, it will leave all conservatives deeply unsettled -- and, in feeling that way, they will be right.