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This report is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Letter from Washington David C. Ward
No There There

At the time of writing, Washington is a month away from the presidential inauguration and the viewing stands are going up on the west front of the capitol and along Pennsylvania Avenue. A large crowd is, as always, expected, although perhaps not so large as the huge, celebratory throng that overflowed the Mall on the occasion four years ago when America welcomed its first black president. Expectations are lower this year but still inaugurations are always big events in the American calendar. They are, for instance, one of the remaining events for which Big Media can roll out its most orotund vocabulary. And who doesn't love a parade?

But inaugurations are only important because they are thought to be important. In reality, they are rather more evanescent than substantive: much anticipated and dwelt on, when the day is over it's as if the events - aside from the basic constitutional duty of approving a new term of office - had never occurred. Inaugurations, with rare exceptions, leave no mark on the public consciousness. They're more quickly forgotten than Super Bowls - and the television commercials are not as good.

The failure of inaugurations to resonate is a failure of rhetoric. The core event of the day - the Inaugural Address - is too frequently an over-reaching failure. Simply put, the president-elect usually tries too hard. So inaugural addresses almost always devolve into a mish-mash in which the furbelows of Grand Rhetoric ...


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