It seems like everybody and his brother was watching the championship football games Sunday, Jan. 20. Indeed, 47.7 million viewers and 42 million viewers, respectively, were glued to their big screens.
Yet, an event of even greater import took place that same day — with only C-Span cameras in attendance.
The president, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and Chief Justice John Roberts, who managed, this time, to feed President Barack Obama the 35-word oath without a single stumble or slipup, assembled in the Blue Room, as dazzling sunlight streamed through the multipaned windows.
Since the 20th Amendment mandates a deadline of noon on Jan. 20, it was the only presidential oath of office that actually counted.
At the very first inauguration, the Bible on which George Washington placed his left hand, as he swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, was hastily borrowed from St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1. Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush would later swear on that same volume of Scripture.
At Obama’s second inauguration, however, he chose not one, but two different editions of sacred writ. One was the so-called “traveling Bible” of Martin Luther King, Jr., while the other Bible had been employed at Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration.
Hopefully, Lincoln’s reply to a critic incensed with the 16th president for including major political rivals — William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron and Edward Bates — in his Cabinet, will not be lost on Obama. “Am I not destroying my enemies,” gently asked Lincoln, “when I make friends of them?”
John Adams inadvertently included a job description for subsequent presidents in a letter to wife Abigail. “May none but honest and wise men,” he wrote on Nov. 1, 1800, “ever rule under this roof.” A century later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have Adams’ words carved into the State Dining Room fireplace.
At the beginning of his first term, when President Obama summoned a number of historians to the Oval Office, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David McCullough told Obama, that in addition to (Adams’) honesty and wisdom, great presidents must also possess courage, integrity, patience and determination.
A Feb. 5, 2011 Gallup poll, asking, “Who do you regard as the greatest United States president?” spelled out the winners. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were rated favorably by at least 80 percent of the respondents.
Yet, to presidential leadership scholar Thomas Cronin, America’s wish list for a leader of the free world appears unrealistic.
“It seems,” he told CBS Sunday Morning, “like an amalgam of wanting Mother Teresa, Mandela, Rambo, the Terminator and Spider-Man all wrapped into one. It's a pretty outlandish job description.”
And our unrealistic expectations may well be what keeps those who dish out nasty negative campaigns in business.
In addition, even though the electorate bestowed another four years on Obama, the deadline to define his legacy will arrive far sooner.
Presidential scholars predict only a stingy 12 to 18 months before Obama’s effectiveness begins to lag. Then, as the media assign him official lame-duck status, he will forfeit the spotlight to those who would jostle and jockey to succeed him.
Whether Obama realizes it or not, the biggest obstacle to achieving his legacy is the GOP. Not only were two former presidents named Bush conspicuously absent at his public inauguration, but Mitt Romney also dispatched his regrets.
Furthermore, Charles Spies, who organized a Las Vegas excursion for nearly 100 Republicans over inauguration weekend, told The New York Times, “almost everybody (Republican) I’ve talked to has said they’re getting out of town.”
In “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” John Meacham observed that our third president faced politics as dirty and polarized as any seen by Obama, yet, he was extremely effective in pursuit of his vision for America. His top-secret weapon? Jefferson gathered his enemies around his own dining room table and fed them from his own garden.
Like Lincoln, Jefferson believed it far more difficult for adversaries to turn him down — especially under the Capitol dome — once they had broken bread with him. To that end, small dinner parties with members of Congress were held at the White House — every single night.
Further, Jefferson refused to allow his guests to feel abandoned in some overcrowded State Dining Room. Not only would he treat each of them to intimate face-time with the nation’s chief executive, but he would also allow them to bask in the afterglow of an uber-prestige-enhancing occasion.
I suspect GOP lawmakers might also consider a cozy culinary experience with the president on a par with scoring 50-yard-line seats to the Super Bowl, especially if the first lady agrees to leave broccoli off the menu.