11:00 A.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Also, I would like to welcome journalists at our New York Foreign Press Center who are joining us today via DVC. As you know, Monday the United States will celebrate its 57th Presidential Inauguration. So today, we have with us Professor Michael Cornfield, who is a political scientist at George Washington University, who will give you a historical and a strategic perspective on the Inauguration.
MR. CORNFIELD: Thank you. It’s nice to be with you today. The Inauguration of the President of the United States is a quasi-religious holiday, it is a celebrity gala, and it is an opportunity for political management all rolled into one. The oath-taking, which is the religious part, the partying, the parade, which is the celebrity part, and the Inaugural Address, which is the political management part – I will look at each aspect in turn, but focus on political management, because at the Graduate School of Political Management at GW, I’m program director, and that’s my field.
So let’s start with the ritual, which actually will not occur on Monday, but will occur, as prescribed in the Constitution and by amendment on Sunday, the 20th of January. And it will, as Miriam mentioned, this will be the 57th consecutive time that a president will be inaugurated. And it’s that 57 times in a row that we’re really celebrating with the oath of office, more than the victory of Barack Obama. What we validate and commemorate with this ritual is the peaceful, constitutional, and democratically rooted conferral of government powers – not all government powers, some government powers – upon the winner of the previous election.
When vice presidents assume the presidency, after a presidential death or resignation, there is an oath of office, but there is no Inaugural Address and there is no celebration. And that’s appropriate, because the people have not spoken through an election. It is only when we follow on election with the transfer of power that we have a full-tilt Inaugural event. So for example, when Harry Truman became president, when Lyndon Johnson became president, when Gerald Ford became president, they were all – they took the oath of office, that part remains, but there were no parties, there were no parades, and there was no Inaugural Address. No parties and parades, obviously, because those were somber circumstances, but also no Inaugural Address because it would be presumptuous for someone who did not have the official backing of a vote to make such an address.
George Washington added “So help me God” to the 35 words that are prescribed for new presidents to say in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. And it was also George Washington’s decision to be sworn in with his hand on a Bible. And every president since him has kept to that ritual, and it is always a matter of interest what Bible the President is putting his hand on, whether there are going to be two books or one. In some cases, the book has been open to a particular passage of scripture. In some cases, the book is closed. I had a question at a session with students at GW yesterday, and one of them asked me if Mitt Romney had won, whether he would have been sworn in on the Book of Mormon. And it’s an interesting question, and I don’t have any answer. But religion is part of this ceremony.
I don’t have a lot to say about the celebrity aspect of the Inauguration, the parade, the reception – the reception goes back to Thomas Jefferson’s second Inaugural – the parties or balls, which goes back to James Madison and more precisely to his wife, Dolley Madison, whose idea it was – the concerts, the swag, all of the paraphernalia that you will see being offered for sale on the streets this entire weekend.
Now, what’s being celebrated as opposed to what’s being commemorated is the political victory. And we know this because the losers leave town. The members of Congress – the Republican members of Congress have decamped to Williamsburg, Virginia, and many of the political consultants and party regulars just don’t want to be here for this, and so they go. They go take a vacation. And this works both ways. Not everything is symmetrical between Republicans and Democrats, but this is a tradition, too. You leave the town basically to the supporters and the operatives of the victorious political party.
This year, the celebrating is going to be much reduced from 2009. There’s one obvious reason for that, and there’s a subtler reason for that. The obvious reason is that the sequel is – never has the luster of the original. And when the original is the first African American President in the history of the country, well, there was a level of excitement here in 2009 and the number of people here and a buzz that is missing this year.
But there’s another reason, and that’s because of Newtown and it’s because the entertainment industry has been deemed partially culpable for the violent culture that contributed to that event. This entire event is taking place in the shadow of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And that’s a political opportunity that I will get back to in a moment, but in terms of the parties and the celebration, it would almost be unseemly to be too exuberant, especially involving Hollywood figures in the aftermath of what happened in Connecticut last month.
Now to my main subject, the one I get paid to teach about and run a program about, which is the politics of the Inaugural Address. The Inaugural Address is as close as regular American speechwriter gets to poetry. Indeed, poets have often been invited to deliver an introductory convocation ever since 1961 when JFK brought Robert Frost to the podium. That will happen this year as well. The speech, the Inaugural Address, will be delivered on the 21st and that’s partly so as not to conflict with another religious ceremony in the United States on Sunday, which are the semifinal championships in the National Football League. (Laughter.)
And Inaugural Address offers a president of the United States the chance to set the tone or set a tone for the negotiating and implementation of government policies in the term ahead. The policy details themselves are left to the State of the Union address. That’s the pose to the poem of the Inaugural Address. That is set for February 12, which ironically is Lincoln’s birthday. And that is done at the invitation of Congress in accordance with a phrase – a more vague phrase in the Constitution itself. In the State of the Union address, Congress is the main audience. That is who the president is primarily speaking to, and everyone else is sort of watching as a courtesy. In the Inaugural Address, by contrast, Congress is one of several primary audiences.
The audience for the Inaugural Address are the American people, the campaign coalition, the world at large, which is why it is very appropriate that you are all here, and the audience of the future. This is a time when it is not inappropriate or prideful for a president to speak in terms of centuries and destinies and history and all of those big concepts that can sound pretentious if they’re uttered at a fundraising event or even at a convention or – and certainly in Congress.
What we listen for in the Inaugural Address first is tone, and I’m going to come back to that. What tone does the President attempt to set? But we also listen to see if he, and someday she, chooses to single our particular issues, particular industry sectors, particular foreign leaders for praise or for threats. For example, will the President have anything to say with respect to what is going on in Algeria right now? Will the President have anything to say to Israel, to the Arab nations, to Europe, to anyone? Will the President have anything to say to Hispanics, and if he does, will he become the first president in American history to utter a line in the presidential address in Spanish?
Will the President have anything special to say to young people, to the technologically savvy? Presidential Inaugural Addresses have been webcast since 1996, but no president has ever really made full use of the medium. The most famous line from any presidential Inaugural Address arguable is, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” which is from JFK’s speech. Today, a president could ask people to Tweet their responses and the results could be placed on the screen – just saying. It probably won’t happen, but if it does, you heard it here first. (Laughter.)
At any rate, there is a lot that can be done with this interactive medium. More and more people are watching Inaugural Addresses and other political events on multiple screens at once, and it would be interesting to see if the President tries to take advantage of the communications technology.
The last time a president did that to great effect was Ronald Reagan. In 1981, Ronald Reagan and his team moved the Inaugural Address from the east front of the Capitol to the west front of the Capitol, and the reason they did that is because they decided to move the camera. Reagan, who of course grew up in the entertainment industry and was very conscious of the grammar of camera work, began to speak one line about American history, and as he did the camera left him and left the podium and started to pan down the mall. And he mentioned Washington and you saw the Washington moment, and he mentioned Jefferson and Lincoln and then concluded with a tribute to the fallen military heroes buried in Arlington Cemetery. And that was the first time that a president had ever thought to make use of – full use of cameras and camera positions to create an effect, a patriotic, tinged with melancholy effect. So we’re still awaiting a president who makes full use of this new medium, and maybe Obama will and maybe he won’t.
An Inaugural Address has been an opportunity for political strategy from the start. James Madison lobbied George Washington to include a line or two in his very first Inaugural Address advocating that Congress pass the Bill of Rights. As you may know, the Bill of Rights was left out of the Constitution and the fight over the ratification of the Constitution pitted those who said, “No, there are no rights for states.” It was really states then, not individuals. “There are no rights for states in this document. We can’t support it.”
And Madison managed to get the Commonwealth of Virginia to agree to pass, to ratify the Constitution in exchange for a promise that he, Madison, who was a congressman, would introduce the Bill of Rights in the very first Congress. In other words, he postponed it and said, “We’ll get that done. Let’s just ratify the Constitution.” So Madison was at pains to get – set the stage for the passage of the Bill of Rights in the First Congress, and he convinced his fellow Virginian, George Washington, to say something about it in that speech.
In his first Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson sought to square the circle of one nation and two parties. And his famous line was, “We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.” James Monroe was the first to give the address outdoors to an assembled crown. And presidents feel more powerful and members of Congress and others they negotiate with feel their power when they see a big crowd and they hear a big crowd, which was not possible technologically then. But that set the stage for it.
William McKinley moved the Inaugural Address from before the oath taking to after the oath taking. And again, that’s sort of an investiture of political power. It’s not the person who’s about to become president speaking to you, it’s the person who has just become president.
Now what options does Obama have in terms of tone? The most famous second Inaugural Address – and by the way, of the 57 Inaugural Addresses, this is the 17th time that someone is taking the oath of office for the second time. The most famous second Inaugural Address, and arguably the greatest speech by any leader in any nation in any century, up there with the funeral oration of Pericles, is Lincoln’s second Inaugural. It – which look place in March of 1865; this is before the Inauguration was moved back to January. And when he gave that speech, the military victory of the Union over the Confederacy was in view, although it was not yet complete.
Lincoln could have been Julius Caesar, proclaiming the supremacy of the constitutional republic and the expunging of slavery, and he could have set the tone for imposing big changes on the lives of the defeated. That’s what the rulers of great powers do. But he didn’t. Instead, as the historian Merrill Peterson put it, he sought to make the seat of power a seat of mercy. He rejected righteousness and vindictiveness and triumph, and he declared himself in his second Inaugural Address humbled before God by the horror of the war that had come upon both the South and the North.
This was a war with modern weaponry but not modern medicine. There was no anesthesia yet. And it was a gruesome and vast conflict. And his last paragraph of his second Inaugural Address, which concludes the movies Lincoln, and so I won’t compete with Daniel Day-Lewis to read it to you, but you can read it for yourself. And of course, the most famous opening phrase is: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right …” That is humble. That is magnanimous. That is unprecedented.
The public reaction to Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address was mixed, and it was not simply which side of the war you were on. There were southerners who thought it was magnificent, and there were northerners who were puzzled and down on the speech. The most interesting reaction came from the African American leader, Frederick Douglas, who’s opinion Lincoln loudly sought at the White House reception after the speech, and he deemed the speech a sacred effort.
And so, part of what you will listen for are not the speeches but the reactions – the reactions of not just Congress, of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but the reactions of American leaders. How did they find the speech? That’s part of the story you’re going to be covering. And then of course, within two months, Lincoln was not only the pensive American Caesar, he was the martyred American Christ.
I want to talk a little bit now about FDR’s second Inaugural Address. No president has ever benefited from as big a margin of victory as FDR had when he took the oath of office for the second time in 1937. He won every state in the Union except two – Maine and Vermont, a record matched only by Richard Nixon in 1973. But when Richard Nixon won a huge, sweeping landslide election in 1973, he still faced a Congress that was divided between Republicans and Democrats. In contrast, when FDR took office, the Democratic/Republican breakout was 75 to 17 in the Senate and 333-89 in the House. So basically, from a political institutional standpoint, FDR had a blank check. He could do whatever he wanted, and no president has ever enjoyed such margins.
And he wanted to do more to battle the Depression, and he was not humble. “We have begun,” FDR said, “to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public’s government.” Can you imagine a president talking that way to Goldman-Sachs today? No. Or to arms manufacturers? Maybe. “The legend that they, the private powers, were invincible, above and beyond the processes of a democracy has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten,” and don’t you forget it. He didn’t say that, but that was implied.
New challenges awaited the FDR coalition. “I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope, because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out.” But FDR overreached. He dissipated his strength by going after the Supreme Court and the southern wing of his party. And by 1938, when he delivered his State of the Union address, it was the first time he had ever delivered a State of the Union address without new proposals for new programs. So he was put in his place rather swiftly.
So humility would seem to be a better option than prideful ambition for a re-elected president. And we have additional evidence for the hypothesis if we look at the second Inaugural of George W. Bush in 2005. This was the first Inaugural in the shadow of 9/11. This was an Inaugural in the middle of the war against Iraq. And George Bush said to the peoples of the world, he promised, “that when you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.” And it was a speech against tyranny and ideologies that fed hatred and excuse murder. To the people of the United States in particular, he promised to build an ownership society. And soon after that speech, he proposed legislation that would privatize Social Security. And as with FDR, within a year, George W. Bush was repudiated and abashed by his rhetorical overreach.
One final illustration, before I loop back to what Obama’s options are, is George Washington’s second Inaugural Address. It’s the shortest on record. It’s four sentences long, 135 words, and it’s the most boring words imaginable. It’s like filling out an application form. I accept this job is basically all he said. But it’s important to mention, because that’s always an option for a president, not to be silent but to be perfunctory or to be subdued, to not rise to the occasion because your political judgment is that you really don’t have the cards in your hand to play that out and you don’t want to raise expectations.
The master of not raising expectations from a presidential standpoint was Dwight Eisenhower. And in 1957 – for that matter, in 1953, he gave two speeches, Inaugural Addresses, that were utterly forgettable. Most of them are utterly forgettable in terms of the quality of the words and the magic of the moment. But that did not hurt him as a leader. On the contrary, it may have helped.
So Obama, as he prepares for his speech on Monday, he has won two elections in a row. And if you combine the margins, they are the biggest since Eisenhower. He is the best presidential vote-getter since Dwight Eisenhower, combining the two, because Nixon’s first election was won very narrowly.
However, as you all know, Obama’s party controls only one branch of Congress, and not by that wide a margin, although it is slightly wider than it was two years ago. And the other branch, the House of Representatives, is controlled by the Republican Party, which has a defiant faction in it that seeks large, fast, and sweeping reductions in the federal government. Obama – what Obama says, in effect, to the Tea Party Republicans is going to be strategically the most interesting aspect of his speech.
These are the Republicans who voted against aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy. These are the Republicans who despise and decry not taxation without representation, which was the rallying cry of the American Revolution, but taxes period. They don’t want any taxes on anything. They may opt not to pay the debts incurred by previous Congresses, although there are signs coming out of Williamsburg that the Republicans may not take the debt ceiling issue all the way to the edge of the proverbial cliff. They oppose immigration reform, which they regard as amnesty for criminals. And they oppose gun reform, which they regard as an infringement on their constitutional rights to protect themselves from criminals and from the government itself.
I’m surprising myself by saying this, but I feel confident that, as much as we all expected that this month and this speech and the State of the Union would be dominated by the story of the economy, it is not. Newtown was the biggest event since 9/11 in terms of the American psyche, not as big but much bigger than anything that came before it. The signs of this are everywhere. And Obama has acknowledged this. He acknowledged it by taking the unusual step two days ago of making a policy address, a major policy address, on gun control before the Inaugural Address and before the State of the Union Address. He does not want to wait to take this opportunity to make changes in gun control. And it is a very personal appeal, as you have seen.
So the question, as he takes the Inaugural – as he gives his Inaugural Address, what will he say? What will his attitude be toward the Republicans? And will he depict them not just in economic terms or political terms but in terms of their connections to the NRA and to the gun culture? He could be defiant. He could say never again. And that stance of defiance would then wash over to –by – implicitly by association to the stance he would be taking on immigration and the stance he would be taking on the debt and the deficit.
He could be milder. He – in the past, at moments of confrontation, he has been professorial. And say – the line he uses is: We’re better than this. Well, “we’re better than this” is an objective statement, a reading – not an objective reading, it’s a reading of the situation and it’s a bystander’s comment. It’s not a call to action. So somewhere between “never again,” which is probably too defiant, and “we’re better than this” is where Obama is going to land. And I don’t have the words that would express that tone. If I did, I would not be here; I would be writing that speech with him. That’s not my job.
To conclude, there’s a moment in the film “Lincoln” where Lincoln reminds several politicians he’s negotiating with over the passage of the 13th Amendment, the one that abolished slavery, where he says that he’s “clothed in immense power.” And I think Daniel Day-Lewis bangs his hand down on the table for extra emphasis. It’s a beautiful phrase, and it’s not the screenwriters’ phrase. It’s Lincoln’s phrase. Clothed in immense power – the United States president is not a king or a dictator. The power he has, which is immense – even more immense than in Lincoln’s day in some respects – is accountable, it is contingent, it is revocable. He doesn’t get to decide who wears – that he’s wearing those clothes. The people decide. The Constitution regulates what he wears. And at our finest moments in American history, presidents clothed with American – immense power that has been loaned to them have voluntarily taken them off and walked away from the office and gone home, either because they lost the election or because, as with Washington at the end of his second term, he had had enough, or because, as with Richard Nixon, he saw that he would be removed from office by Congress if he did not leave immediately.
And some of you, no doubt, come from nations where the transfer of power is not so smooth. It’s not virtually automatic and assumed. It would be a taboo broken for an American president to stay. We even have that here in the United States. The mayor of New York City refused to leave, and in effect, changed the rules so that he could have a third term, and he got a lot of criticism for that. An American president would never try that and never get away with that, even in a time of extreme partisan polarization and even in a time of crisis. And it is that that we commemorate more than anything else in the next three days.
So that’s my speech, as Daniel Day-Lewis says in the movie, and I’m happy to take any questions.
MODERATOR: Please wait for the microphone and state your name and your media organization.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you for giving us all these wonderful tidbits. I was wondering – the Inaugural Address is the main event for the ceremony on Monday, but I was wondering if you could give us some historical anecdotes or curious facts about the surrounding ceremonial events or – besides the Inaugural Address, things that have made history in the past, anecdotal related to the Inaugural ceremony itself? Thank you.
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, I mean, I thought I --
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m with EFE News Services.
MR. CORNFIELD: Okay. I thought I did that, with all due respect. I don’t really know what you’re looking for. And also, with all due respect, what I was talking about was not tidbits. It’s about peace and --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I misphrased it.
MR. CORNFIELD: Okay. Well, I just want to make that clear. I don’t do tidbits. You can go to Wikipedia for tidbits.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I misphrased it. I meant – I know that the Inaugural Address obviously is the main event and is the most important part of the ceremony, but --
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, the oath of office is just as important, as I tried to explain, even though it’s not – it’s a ritual, and so there’s not going to be a news value to it, nevertheless. But what I was trying to explain is that its matter-of-factness is, in fact, its greatness – that we are able to do this. I mean, they’re not able to do this in Venezuela right now, right? They’re not able to do this in Russia or in other countries, and we shouldn’t – and we do take it for granted, but we should not take it for granted. So I don’t have anything to say about Beyonce and I don’t have anything to say about – I made my joke about the National Football League. That’s my best tidbit. (Laughter.)
I can add one more thing which pops into my head, which is often remarked upon, which is that William Henry Harrison gave the longest speech on record, 10,000 words, and he was dead within a month. Although there’s no cause and effect there necessarily, but they tend to be short. I’m sorry, I just – this is very important to me passionately, so --
QUESTION: No, no, I understand and I respect that.
MR. CORNFIELD: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: Just thinking in terms of – because the official swearing-in is Sunday --
MR. CORNFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: -- so that’s why I was focusing on everything else surrounding the swearing-in on Monday as well. That’s what I meant.
MR. CORNFIELD: And again, I would look to the digital stuff for news, but if anything happens, you’ll see it.
MODERATOR: I could add something to it. The Foreign Press Center sent out a media guide a couple of days ago. It has a lot of information that you’d probably be interested in.
MODERATOR: Next question.
QUESTION: Sir, thank you very much for your highly instructive speech.
MR. CORNFIELD: That’s better. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Trying to help Maria. My name is Fouad Arif from the Moroccan News Agency. Sir, we know that American presidents care a lot about their legacy.
MR. CORNFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: What are the aspects of this Inauguration that Obama might use to his advantage to give the American people some hints about the policies that he would like to leave as his legacy to future generations? Thank you very much.
MR. CORNFIELD: I think when he ran for office for the first time and he published his political autobiography as opposed to his personal biography, An Audacity of Hope – The Audacity of Hope, excuse me – he said he had an agenda of five things. And one of the remarkable things about him is he has stayed focused on those five things.
One was universal healthcare, check; one was getting American military troops out of Iraq, half-check – on the way; a third was climate change, about which he has said very little recently; a fourth was the economy, and again, he has a mixed record; and the fifth, I’m trying to remember now. You should never start that without making sure I know all five.
MR. CORNFIELD: I don’t think it was Afghanistan and I don’t think it was – was it Guantanamo? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’d have to go back and check. But my point is, is that I don’t think he’s going to surprise us unless he adds guns, because I don’t think he had anything to say in 2007 about guns.
That, to me, again, is the new element that we’re not familiar with, that we haven’t been wrestling with for the last four years, and indeed, in the last decade. So if he decides to widen and deepen his claim to legacy and set the expectations on which he will be judged, I think that’s going to be it. And here – I don’t mean to minimize the other things – and I am curious to know whether or not he will mention climate change, because it has been traditionally, when he talks expansively about what he wants to do, that has been a major theme, but not right now, apparently.
MODERATOR: New York, please ask your question.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Mercedes Gallego with the Spanish newspaper El Correro. Thank you very much for putting in perspective for us all these presidents throughout the history. I would like to know, how would you remember Obama’s first speech, Inauguration speech? Is there any line that you think it could pass through history? And also you mentioned that if he did any reference to Hispanic population or Hispanics in this speech, it would be the first time in history. Do you expect to hear something like that? Thank you very much.
MR. CORNFIELD: You know what? That was the fifth thing, it was immigration reform. It was. It was. I think it would be an electric moment if he uttered a sentence in Spanish. I’m trying to remember the other aspects of your question.
Do I remember anything from his first Inaugural Address? That’s simple. No, I don’t. Not a word. Do I remember the event? Yes, I do. I’ll never forget the event. I took my son to that event. There were more than a million and a half people on the Mall, and that’s why I opened with sort of the framework that there’s three things going on here – there’s the speech, which was forgettable, there’s the ceremony, which is magnificent but ordinary, and there – actually, there’s a tidbit for you, because John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States, blew it, and they had to do it again. That was – but really, it was the party, it was the celebration. It was all of these people who never in their life believed that they would ever see an African American President cramming the subways, cramming the Mall, going to the parties. The glitz factor was off the scale. They had the big concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King spoke. I mean, that was the memorable part, and the Inaugural Address was anti-climactic.
This time, the Inaugural Address I don’t think would be anti-climactic. If he goes large, if he does something distinctive, we will all notice, and I think we would all be surprised, because my guess is that Saturday and Sunday will be nice and will be impressive, but not what it was in 2009. And he doesn’t want to invite comparison with that.
I should add, also, back to guns, that Obama has been – and Obama’s organization, with its tens of millions of email addresses and its millions of Facebook friends, has been sending out material on guns in the last 72 hours. “Join us,” “Join our fight.” They have made that – and so his campaign arm has made that the emphasis. But whether he’ll do it in the speech is another matter. I hope that answers your question.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, (inaudible). She was asking about Hispanics.
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, I meant – I talked about that.
MR. CORNFIELD: I said if he did say a sentence in Spanish, I think it would be an electric moment. Thank goodness you reminded me that was the fifth thing that in The Audacity of Hope was comprehensive immigration reform. So he’s been for that, he’s been on record for that since before he became the Democratic nominee, let alone the President. So – and he will be judged on that. He will be judged on whether he achieves comprehensive immigration reform. If he does not, it will be a failure, by his own standards.
MODERATOR: Okay, next.
MR. CORNFIELD: Oh, she’s – she had a follow-up.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Hi, my name is Kathleen. I’m a correspondent for a Portuguese newspaper called Publico. Everybody’s been talking about how this second Inaugural is going to be downsized compared to the first one. It’s going to be less of a big deal, et cetera, et cetera, because it’s the second one. Do you still expect it to be a big deal or not? Do you still expect to see a lot of people coming to see the President, maybe because they weren’t here the first time, or for whatever reason?
The second question is: Could you explain a little bit about why the public oath-taking is taking place on Monday and not Sunday? Because I heard different versions. I heard a version that had to do with the fact that on Sunday, the courts are closed. And then I heard that it had to do with the fact that it’s – that they – the people go to church. So if you could explain that, thank you.
MR. CORNFIELD: I’m afraid I only have a joke answer to your second question. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know the official answer. I know that in the past, when January 20th has fallen on a Sunday, that the parade has – and the Inaugural Address have been moved to Monday. But I’m afraid you’ve caught me short. I don’t know the answer to that. Do you?
PARTICIPANT: Yeah, I think so. Every holiday must be outside of Sunday, because otherwise the people wouldn’t –
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, that’s not it, because it’s not a national holiday. It’s only – that part I do know. It is only a holiday from work for people who live in the Washington metropolitan area. I don’t even believe it’s a holiday throughout Virginia and Maryland. So for example, I live in Arlington, which is within the beltway and is within the – actually within the old boundaries of the District of Columbia, and it’s a holiday in Arlington. There’s no school, everything is closed down. But down in Richmond or in Charlottesville and other parts of Virginia, it’s an ordinary working Monday.
MR. CORNFIELD: So – no, no, but it was a good guess, and better than I have to offer. As to your first question, I assume there will be hundreds of thousands of people. And it’s kind of ridiculous to say that hundreds of thousands of people is a come-down, but numerically, it is. There were a million and a half people by most estimates here in 2009. It was the largest crowd in the history of the Washington Mall. The Mall was filled, packed, from end-to-end, and I had never seen anything like that. That was not – it did not happen for Martin Luther King, it did not happen for the Millions Moms March, it did not – it was unprecedented. So since it was unprecedented, how could it not be anything but something smaller?
Will people who did not come in 2009 come this time? That’s a really good question, and I’ll look to you to wander the Mall and your colleagues in the press to ask people what moved them to come this time. I think that’s a really good question. And I don’t – as an academic, and since it hasn’t happened yet, I don’t have an answer for that one. But I think it’s a really good question.
MODERATOR: New York, your question, please? New York?
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Gulveda Lama. I’m a reporter for Turkish news channel Haberturk. Thank you for your fulfilling in for here. It’s going to be really helpful for our coverage. I have two short questions.
First, you mentioned that we are expecting two speeches, one an Inaugural speech and then a State of the Union. Now that Obama guaranteed a second term, do you think or do you expect him to be bolder in both speeches in terms of his policy for the next four years? I mean, has that happened in the past where presidents feel more comfortable and more – and braver to act on their policies were they couldn’t fulfill in the first term with the fear that they might not be getting elected for the next term? This is number one.
And number – sorry, go ahead.
MR. CORNFIELD: The answer to your question is he might, but if history is a guide he will be careful. Because when FDR tried it and when George W. Bush tried it, they found that they overreached and they ended up losing power and not being able to accomplish much by setting out such big expectations in their Inaugural address. So that’s a consideration.
You’re right; the other consideration is this is my last shot, I have nothing to lose, what are they going to do? They’re never going to vote for me or against me again. Why shouldn’t I go bold? That to me is what drama there is, is waiting to see how bold, what tone he takes. That is exactly the question that they’re thinking about and calculating and considering right now.
Your second question?
QUESTION: I hope you can help me with this question, because the United States is a secular country and yet you have a swearing-in ceremony where the president puts his hand on the Bible. And this is something very different from where I come, even though it’s a predominantly Muslim country and it’s a secular country, but we cannot have our prime minister having the Qu’ran and swearing-in once he’s – after he’s elected. So how does that go with the secular nature of this country and yet having a president swearing in with his hand on the Bible?
MR. CORNFIELD: That’s a great question and it is an enduring complication and maybe even a source of hypocrisy for the United States. The precise relationship between what is set up as a secular government and the embrace of the Judeo-Christian religion is a contradiction. It’s a tension. It’s a tension that’s fought out in Supreme Court cases and local court cases every Christmas when there’s arguments about what sorts of crèches can be put on public property. It’s something we wrestle with as a nation constantly and we don’t have a good answer for. But you’re right to note it and that’s why I thought it was remarkable, worth remarking upon, that there has been by tradition, not in the Constitution, but by tradition there has been this religious dimension to the oath taking.
So there is no simple answer to it. It’s an ongoing tension within American politics is what the proper relationship of religion to the state. And our First Amendment has two clauses devoted to it and they’re – both clauses are argued about incessantly at the highest and lowest levels. So I hope that’s of some help, but you’re right to call attention to it.
QUESTION: Shar Adams from the Epoch Times. Thanks so much for putting this in historical context. Senator Schumer has determined that the theme of this Inauguration will be “Faith in America’s Future,” linked that to the 150th anniversary of the capping of the Dome with the Statue of Freedom, and I think Lincoln was quoted in persevering in getting the Capitol building finished during the Civil War, saying it will be a symbol of the union. How much will this theme play into President Obama’s speech and how much – what significance will the theme have historically, do you think?
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, again, to me that’s an option that he has, and I don’t know how much. I mean, in the past he has worked in religious theme and religious imagery. He may call attention to that anniversary. He may wait until he’s actually under the Capitol Dome to call attention to that imagery. I can see him possibly quoting scripture. All of these are possibilities, but I don’t have a strong sense as to what he’s going to do.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your statement. My name is Ansgar Graw from the German newspaper Die Welt. You mentioned the idea that this address is – the Inauguration is a day of the victory, the victors, and that the loser will leave the town. Could you elaborate that a little bit, for example if the Senate has a majority of the other side from the other party or the House Speaker in this case is Republican, he won’t show up for this?
MR. CORNFIELD: Oh no. I think he will show up on the podium for the Inauguration, but the preceding days he’s left. It won’t be – it would be a breach of – a serious breach of protocol for him not to be there on the podium during the Inaugural address. But during the parties, during – because the Inaugural event lasts several days, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify that. It would be a tremendous breach of protocol for all elected members of the U.S. Government, except I’m assuming it is at the State of the Union address, there’s usually someone who is deliberately held back in the event of catastrophe. No, he will be there. Mitch McConnell will be there. Mitch McConnell will be there. Mitt Romney, on the other hand – (laughter) – well, no, I mean, actually, that’s a question. I’m sure if he wanted to, but I doubt it.
QUESTION: My name is William Marsden from Postmedia newspapers in Canada. I’m interested a little bit more on your commenting on the why of the extensive pageantry of this affair. You noted that it has to do with the peaceful transfer of power, but I come from a country whose peaceful transfer of power has been going on for 150 years and we never celebrate it, as do many other democracies never celebrate it. So I was just wondering, is there something about the American psyche where it’s – Americans’ relationship with its government that you might comment that is different from other democracies?
MR. CORNFIELD: We’re a nation of extroverts, glitz. We love our parades. We love our celebrities. It’s a tradition, and that’s somewhat of an intellectual copout to say that the reason it’s done is because it’s always been done that way. But other than that, in the same sort of cultural contrast that you’re appealing to in your question, which I would agree with, we are brassy. (Laughter.) We are exhibitionists. I find it unseemly that we’re talking about – that Lance Armstrong is on television with Oprah Winfrey and that this football player has a hoax, but that’s our celebrity culture. And that spills over into our political events.
QUESTION: But is there a sense also – sorry, is there a sense also that there is sort of, every four years, a new beginning, a new reaffirmation of a destiny or something?
MR. CORNFIELD: I don’t – I think it’s more the continuity, that we’re celebrating the continuity with a second Inaugural. I think the – so for example, one cliché of American politics is new presidents get a honeymoon period from you folks, from your brethren and sisters in the American press, and from Congress and from the people. But nobody talks about a honeymoon in a second term. This is the – we’re still married to the same guy. So I don’t think there is as much of that in a second Inaugural as there is in a first.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York, please.
QUESTION: Yeah, Maria Ramirez from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. I would like to know if you can tell us a bit about the three Bibles chosen by President Obama this time, and is there’s any president that has used so many Bibles in his Inaugural Address? And I have a second question.
MR. CORNFIELD: (Inaudible) but I don’t. I don’t know whether – the question is has anyone ever – this is a stack of Bibles he’s being sworn in on. I believe it’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Bible --
QUESTION: And the Lincoln Bible.
MR. CORNFIELD: And the Lincoln bible and what is the third?
QUESTION: The Robinson --
QUESTION: The family Bible on --
MR. CORNFIELD: The family Bible.
QUESTION: But it’s going to be on Sunday.
MR. CORNFIELD: I don’t know if anyone has ever used as many Bibles as he’s going to use. I don’t know the answer. What’s your second question?
QUESTION: Yeah, my second question is – well, of course, four years ago was the largest crowd that we’ve seen in an Inauguration. But after that, what’s the second largest?
MR. CORNFIELD: Second largest? I have no idea. I’m sorry.
MODERATOR: All right. We have to conclude. Thank you for coming.
MR. CORNFIELD: Well, I can – I’ll take two more. I’ll take those --
MODERATOR: Can you come after? Because the tape only goes one –
MR. CORNFIELD: Oh, okay. Use a tape. Yeah, okay. Sorry.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MR. CORNFIELD: Thank you.
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