PAUL DUNN: The First Official Presidential Words
As major presidential candidates battle, in the background speech writers are sharpening outlines for their candidates' anticipated inaugural speeches.
While GOP craftsmen of a Karl Rovian ilk are honing words for John McCain, others of an equally partisan bent are framing comments for Barack Obama.
Reading past inaugurals reveals that only a few phrases are ever remembered. In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's reassuring phrase, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or John F. Kennedy's challenge 28 years later, "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" are standards that successor presidents try to match when setting thematic tones for their administrations.
Gerald Ford's brief statement upon assuming office in 1974, "Our long national nightmare is over," referred to Watergate and the disgraceful conduct of Richard Nixon. Ford mentioned Nixon only once in his acceptance speech, when he asked for prayers for Nixon and his family. Ford's pardoning Nixon for high crimes cost him the '76 election.
Although McCain has endorsed almost every policy of George W. Bush, he'll keep references to his unpopular predecessor to the barest minimum, if he mentions him at all. Instead, expect him to slam the book shut on the past eight years of failed American leadership and international embarrassment. Unlike Ford, McCain will not consider pardons for his predecessor or for his veep for myriad claimed high crimes and misdemeanors now subject to congressional inquiry.
Obama's speeches follow a hopeful "change" theme stressing political cooperation at home, negotiation rather than confrontation abroad. His foreign policy philosophy closely matches Winston Churchill's, who said in 1954, "To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war." Usually hawkish, McCain has a somewhat ambivalent record on foreign wars. He opposed Reagan's intrusion into Lebanon, is gung-ho for the Iraq conflict and has never accepted the futility of Vietnam.
After eight years of illegal wiretaps, torture and rendition, one expects Harvard Law Review Editor Obama, who taught constitutional law for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School, to pledge strict adherence to U.S. law and respect for international treaty obligations.
The Illinois senator may announce that his vice president shall be strictly limited in constitutional duties, and that the office will never again operate as a shadow government with secretive neo-con agendas. As a constitutional law scholar, he may remind Americans that he'll do as his oath requires, "taking care that the laws be faithfully executed." Who he appoints as attorney general should signal the depth of his commitment to a lawful administration.
The American Bar Association has denounced Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance as unconstitutional and violating the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures, and the Supreme Court has ruled NSA's surveillance program is "inconsistent with the law." Six Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges resigned, protesting the legality of administrative programs that bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Eastern Michigan's District Court ruled that monitoring phone calls and e-mails without warrants is "unconstitutional and must be stopped." A deciding judge cited U.S. v. Robel, writing "Implicit in the term 'national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this nation apart. it would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of those liberties which makes the defense of the nation worthwhile."
In 2007 about 40 percent of Americans favored impeaching Bush. Reasons included the legitimacy, legality and constitutionality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens, the Libby commutation, and countless constitutional abuses.
On July 25, 2008, the House of Representatives voted 251 to 166 to refer an impeachment resolution to the Judiciary Committee. Perhaps Obama will take a page from Ford's book and pardon Bush, Cheney and felon sidekick, Scooter Libby (who was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in a matter that may have involved Bush and Cheney in criminal wrongdoing).
The percentage of Americans favoring impeachment would probably be even higher if Congress had exercised its oversight duties and carefully investigated the litany of high crime and misdemeanor charges now before Congress, which remains uninformed as to the extent of illegal spying on American citizens.
Whichever one of the two good and honorable men, Barack Obama or John McCain, assumes the presidency, he'll be challenged mightily to match the most moving remarks ever authored by a president and spoken at an inaugural.
That was on March 4, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln intoned, "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle; and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and all nations."
Paul R. Dunn is co-author of "Great Donald Ross Golf Courses You Can Play" and can be reached at email@example.com.
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