In just three hours, Barack Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States. After he does so, he will deliver his first speech as the nation’s chief executive. That speech, even more than his mostly dignified conduct since the election, will set the tone for his Administration.
This time, his speaking style should serve him well. For the better part of his career in the national spotlight, his speeches have been short on specifics and long on rhetoric. He need not articulate any policy proposals in his address, but speak to the nation he will then lead and not just the partisans who helped elect him.
I am delighted it will be a relatively short speech, “about 15-20 minutes.” All he need do is acknowledge the greatness of this country, perhaps the uniqueness of our history, a nation built on an ideal rather than an ethnicity and even the significance of the moment. To be sure, he can and should offer a broad vision of where he intends to lead us. But, just a broad outline.
Today is not the day for specific policies. Today, is the day to celebrate the greatness of our country and the smoothness of the transition from the Administration of a man from one political party to that of a man from the opposing party. Such a transition first distinguished this nation two-hundred-and-eight years ago, when John Adams peacefully yielded the presidency to his then-political rival, his once and future friend, Thomas Jefferson.
To acknowledge the meaning of such a transition, the new President must pay tribute to his predecessor whose Administration, by all accounts, has helped ensure a smooth transition. That acknowledgment must be so ungrudging that the angriest voices of the left, dedicated for so long to demeaning Bush, will pitch a fit at its generosity.
In recent days, Obama has shown he can rise to the occasion, saying that Bush is “good man who loves his family and loves his country, [who] made the best decisions that he could at times under some very difficult circumstances.â€ Let us hope he does so again today.