President Bush’s Inauguration Speech Will Set Tone of Second Term
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MARGARET WARNER: Among America’s 43 presidents, only 16 of them have had a second term or a second inaugural speech.
So what are the challenges of crafting this speech the second time around? For perspective on that, we turn to two former presidential speech writers.
Ray Price helped write both of Richard Nixon’s inaugural addresses. And Michael Waldman did the same for Bill Clinton. Welcome to you both.
Ray Price, let me begin with you. What was different about preparing and crafting the second inaugural address for Richard Nixon as compared to the first?
RAY PRICE: Well, just basically the second inaugural is different in part because for the first, the president is standing there for the very first time as the president of the United States; he’s introducing himself to the country and the world.
The campaign is over, the governor earning is beginning. For the second, he’s already known. But he does have a challenge that I think, to lay out what he wants to do with these four years for the country and for the world.
They’re waiting to hear what he wants to do and why, the minutia of how for later things, but the why and what in large scale are crucial.
MARGARET WARNER: And Michael Waldman, is that more challenging because it’s the second time around, because it isn’t the freshness or the suspense of sort of who is this guy?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: It is more challenging, most presidential inaugurals of first or second are more or less forgettable at a time when you often hear a lot of bromides.
But the greatest inaugurals we remember were the ones that the president came in at a time of crisis and is said this is what we’re going to do.
And of course by the second inaugural, generally speaking, the crisis has been solved or the president doesn’t get reelected. In this instance it’s sort of interesting.
George W. Bush and his first inaugural, it was well written, but he didn’t really have a whole lot to say. I think he’s got a lot going on right now that he’ll want to talk about. He’s got the crisis of the struggle against Islamic terror; he’s got the crisis of the U.S. presence in Iraq.
And at least in terms of what he’s been saying to the country, he wants people to think of Social Security as a crisis, and Democrats argue that that’s blowing things out of the proportion.
So he may have more to say in this inaugural than in the first one.
MARGARET WARNER: Ray Price, let me take you back if I may to your preparation with President Nixon for the second inaugural.
How did you actually work with the president on the speech? Do you come up, did you come up with the draft and he corrected it or was it vice versa, how did that work?
RAY PRICE: Well, each president does it differently. And in Nixon’s case all of his speeches were very much collaborations. It was back and forth through multiple drafts.
Might begin with ideas from him or from me or back and forth. But anyway, he would be working on it and he would be thinking it through in the process of writing it.
We normally went back and forth for about six or seven drafts, 14 for each state of the union, by coincidence. But I think it was probably about six or seven on the inaugurals.
But ours was complicated, our second — by the fact that we didn’t know until the day of inauguration whether he would be standing there as president of a nation at war or at peace.
The final negotiations to end the Vietnam War were still going on right up to and past the inaugural day. And it was three days after the inauguration on Jan. 23 that he went on the air again to announce that we now had a peace agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Michael Waldman, we all know Bill Clinton was famous for tinkering at the very last moment, rewriting in the car on the way to the state of the union. Did the same thing happen on the inaugural speeches?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Not in the car. But that was in part because the car he had President Bush with him in the car.
It’s true that the process for writing these speeches really reflects the person, and as you can imagine President Clinton was very involved, was very collaborative, he did his best writing, as we often said, between the crossed outlines of other people’s prose.
And I remember working in Blair House with him the night before he became president and he was working, had just given a speech on Martin Luther King and had a bunch of ideas from that, was working way into the night.
And the personnel, the military personnel who were running the teleprompter as he was rehearsing were basically looking at us, his staff, and saying, “is it always like this.” And we said, you know, it will be. You get a window on these guys in some ways at their most unique.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael Waldman, when you were working on the speech, were you and/or the president, were you searching for the memorable phrase, the line that would live in history?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: You’re certainly aware of that, and anybody who gives an inaugural address or who helps someone prepare to give an inaugural address is well aware ask not what your country can do for you, or something like that, and you hope something like that will live on.
But it can actually be a trap. I think these inaugural addresses — sometimes the presidents choke because they know that history is watching, they know these words will be showing up in the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress down the road.
These speeches succeed best when for all the beautiful rhetoric and poetry they are a hard political document — they’re arguing, fighting for some specific immediate goal. And that ultimately is how they succeed or fail, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Ray Price, and if so what was Nixon arguing for? If this was a political document, what point was he trying to make?
RAY PRICE: I think Mike made a very important point there; the substance is key to it. And there are important things that he has to convey.
In our second, in the first term he had done the opening to China, he had been the first president to visit, to have a summit with the Soviets in Moscow, he was rearranging the relations among the great powers of the world, and winding the Vietnam War down.
But now we had to consolidate that, we had to move forward from that, there were still enormous challenges at home and abroad, and in his view they were part and parcel of the same sort of thing.
He was trying to get other nations to take more responsibility for themselves — just as he was trying to get people here in America and the localities to take more responsibility for themselves.
He saw the two as complementary. He was trying in the second inaugural to show the relationship between what he was trying to do abroad and at home and to drive home the importance in both cases.
MARGARET WARNER: And, continuing with you, Mr. Price, how well did that speech reflect, I’m going to ask both of you this, the challenges each man was facing?
I was struck this afternoon thinking that each one made a call for bipartisanship, yet within eighteen months to two years Richard Nixon had to resign in the face of possible impeachment, and Bill Clinton was impeached.
RAY PRICE: Well, the challenges were there, in each case we had a little stumbling block.
MARGARET WARNER: In the speech there was no reference to those?
RAY PRICE: There was not, no. The speech was about governance, about governing, about the world and the nation, and the people.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mike Waldman, would you agree that often they’re not greatly rooted in the particulars of the sort of political struggles of the moment?
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Well, it’s interesting, President Clinton in his second inaugural was obviously well aware that he was a president of the Democratic Party and that the Congress was controlled by Speaker Newt Gingrich and the very intensely partisan, in his view, Republicans.
And he did quote scripture in his second inaugural and talk about wanting to be a repairer of the breach.
And it is the case that in and first year after that inaugural he reached, for example, a balanced budget agreement with the Congress which led to the surplus, and helped spur the prosperity of the late 1990s.
He was hoping for more bipartisan cooperation and obviously one of the factors in his presidency was, in his view, in my view having lived through it, the intensely partisan conflict, struggle for power between the president and the Congress.
And he was certainly well aware of that and hoping to kind of smooth those waters in the inaugural address, and, you know, I would say with partial success.
MARGARET WARNER: So I guess we can’t count on inaugurals to be that prescient. Michael Waldman and Ray Price, thank you both.
RAY PRICE: Thank you.