My Take on the Inauguration Addresses (2/2) The Bad & the Ugly

These are my thoughts on the inaugurals, ordered from the best speech to the worst!

(Usually I write these essays by watching the speeches in chronological order as I write my thoughts in real time, and then arranging them from most effective to least. In this case, for reasons unknown to me now, I started with Trump and then worked backwards. Because of this, I will end up referencing later speeches in my reactions to earlier speeches. Sorry if that throws you off.)

Nixon 1973

I like the fact that Nixon immediately begins by referencing his past speech and term, rather than remind us all that George Washington existed. However, like with Obama’s empty promises, this moment rings hallow on rewatch because he would leave America just as depressed and divided as he claims they were four years ago. It’s insane how ironic and haunting his words are, just like Eagleton’s at the DNC, when he says 1972 would be the greatest year for progress since the end of WWII. In fact, ’72 was the death of the Old Left, the beginning of the end for labor unions as a political force, and the end of any realistic hopes for universal healthcare or basic income. The tragic part is, this wasn’t just an empty platitude on Nixon’s part either–by all accounts he actually supported healthcare and basic income himself. I truly believe Nixon, if he had been free to work his will, without Watergate neutering his ability to get things done, would have made good on that statement. It’s incredibly difficult to look back on the 1972 election for this reason–things just happened to work so that these two great policies that both candidates wanted never came to be.

We see the beginning of the GOP’s anti-government rhetoric around 9 minutes in. Before Goldwater (and during Nixon’s term), Republicans were conservative in that they wanted to trim budgets and make government more efficient. You didn’t see the kind of hostile “government is the problem” rhetoric until ’64 (where it was sharply rebuked by America) and then again in the ’80s with Reagan. At least…that’s what I always thought. It’s weird hearing Nixon say this considering he created the EPA and essentially created the precursor to the DEA by starting the war on drugs. Plus, he supposedly wanted universal healthcare and basic income during this second term…so what gives? Typical politician’s bullshit? Maybe he had other government agencies or programs in mind? I hate the kind of misleading talking point he brings up here, the “America was built not by government but by people!” I’ve mentioned this in reference to some other speeches, but seriously what do these Republicans think government is if not people? Isn’t government literally just one of several means by which people organize themselves and delegate responsibilities? There’s certainly something to be said for wasteful bureaucracy and the potential for government tyranny, but the fact that these people IN GOVERNMENT are so opposed to even the possibility that government might be a force for good under the right leadership and organization just baffles me.

He continues with a perversion of JFK’s famous line from 12 years earlier: “ask not what can government do for me, but what can I do for myself.” An almost complete reversal of sentiment. No longer is it about individuals coming together to help their country, now it’s breaking the government in half and empowering yourself. A precursor to the “Me generation” of the ’80s who swept Reagan and Bush into office with 3 consecutive landslides, while their neoliberal economics doomed their kids’ financial futures. Now…maybe Nixon just meant it as a general advocacy of self-sufficiency and not relying on a higher authority to fix your problems for you. If so, I would certainly agree. But considering what was coming in the very next Republican administration and into the foreseeable future, this line rubs me the wrong way. And if my proposed interpretation is correct, that still means this line is a direct contradiction to Nixon’s own quote from four years earlier about devoting yourself to a higher cause.

One last round of irony comes towards the end when he mentions how American children have become ashamed of their country. No man more than Nixon is more to blame for the loathing, distrust and revulsion many Americans still feel when they think of their government. At the time, many younger people supported things like peace, sensible drug policy and not seeing all their champions brutally gunned down one by one. Nixon stood as the embodiment of those things they hated and feared, and I question whether he was truly as ignorant to that as he seems to be making this point. As for modern children, Generations Y and Z, we feel ashamed primarily because of the greed and bigotry from many of the Republicans and a large percentage of the Boomers. Again, these policies owe their genesis to the axing of labor rights and Southern Strategy which began with Nixon. You couldn’t find a more inappropriate person to talk about the disaffected youth of America if you tried.

I found this to be a surprisingly mediocre speech by Nixon. Say what you will about him, but the man could give great speeches—just look at his convention addresses, the Checkers speech, and the Silent Majority speech. So this is a surprising stumble. It’s not a bad speech, but it’s not nearly as masterful as I’ve come to expect from him. Like Obama’s, it suffers from hypocritical talking points and broken promises. Like Reagan’s, it’s full of awful toxic hard-right mantra which turns me off. And knowing what we know now with what he had done, the sweet progressive hero he’d just humiliated, and how this was probably the great turning point of the 20th century…it’s just really hard to feel good about this speech or this moment. I will say though, the ending was very unique. So that’s something too I guess.

Eisenhower 1957

I don’t know why but it seems like the ’50s speeches are always the hardest to find. This is the only one I couldn’t find on YouTube in full so I had to upload it myself. Anyway, it’s interesting how Eisenhower opens on something of a dire note, then seemingly transitions to a happy picture of commerce, and then comes back to an overarching point—that most of the world is NOT as free as we are to enjoy this commerce and prosperity. You see how, at the height of the Cold War, here and Kennedy’s, there was this big focus on poverty and division abroad. There’s fear mongering about communism and masturbation about how wonderful American freedom is. There’s a lot of stupid talking points, like the importance of law abroad, as if that was in doubt. He speaks against isolationism, calling it a self-made prison. It’s a great line, but ironic in that the Republican party has changed so much in 70 years.

This is an okay speech. It’s better than his convention speeches for sure. It’s not terrible but it almost comes off like a parody, with how often he says the typical buzzwords like “freedom” and “peace.” The focus is solely on foreign nations with nothing at all about America. And there are no specific long term goals like Kennedy offered, just talking about containing the reds and bringing peace to the developing world. I don’t like that—I don’t like that cold war mentality and I especially dislike the neoconservatism it eventually morphed into. The inaugural address should be about America, not the developing world.

Eisenhower 1953

So it turns out, it wasn’t Bush Snr who was the first President to read a prayer at his inaugural address, but Eisenhower. Well, I think it’s just as misguided and awful no matter who it was. There should be no prayers or anything of the sort at state functions, and at the very very least the President ought not to take part in it. This, like his second speech I also find to be an example of everything that was wrong with the ’50s social-political climate. This is the decade where our government in all its wisdom decided their most important job was to add “in God we Trust” on money and “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. I will say though, at least this was an original prayer, tailored to be essentially an expression of hope that America continue to prosper, etc. So that makes it a lot less offensive to me than what Bush did, literally reading from the Bible itself. Apparently this is a famous moment in US speeches too, which surprises me I never heard of it before specifically looking up this speech.

There’s references to WWII and the Korean War which obviously would be fresh on people’s minds at this time. Here Eisenhower also uses the line about how the land, seas and skies are “avenues of commerce” which he will repeat in ’56. He talks about the paradox of science advancing man yet placing him precariously close to destroying himself, which Kennedy would echo in ’60. There’s the typical chest-bumping against the Reds, coupled with an emphasis on their godlessness. There’s talk about how America needs the rest of the world as markets to sell our surplus and for the raw materials to power our factories, and then he annoyingly lists off a bunch of jobs to emphasize this point.

This is very similar to his ’56 speech. In fact, the similarities are probably the greatest of any President who did more than one of these. I have to put this one lower because it’s longer and drones on and on. Eisenhower painstakingly lists out a bunch of goals at one point on a bullet pointed list, and while I usually appreciate detailed policy, it’s done in such a way that takes forever. That, and then there’s the prayer at the beginning, which I think set an awful precedent. I don’t care if you’re religious, that has no place in what should be a secular speech which anyone ought to be able to listen to without feeling alienated. I’m sure those who would defend the use of prayer in an inaugural address would be just as supportive of the concept if it were a Muslim reading from the Quran or a Wiccan invoking Brighid the fertility goddess.

I think JFK took the basic framework of this speech and made it a classic rather than a curiosity. Another significant drawback against this speech and I would argue Eisenhower as a person is that he did not thank Truman for his service to the country. Now, maybe that precedent was not actually established until Nixon…but it does seem strange in any case. One would think it’s just simple decency regardless of being a tradition or not. Without the context of previous speeches we cannot tell. And perhaps this might have been the reason JFK returned the favor and neglected to thank Eisenhower?

Carter 1977

Once again, thanking the preceding president for their service. At this point we can say with certainty that this is a time honored tradition. I like Carter’s quoting of the high school teacher. It’s perhaps a little corny, but at least it’s unique and not just another Washington quote (although he starts talking about Washington immediately afterwards, saying he was sworn in on the same Bible.)

I think it’s weak to go out of your way to say that you have no new dreams for the country. As President, you’re supposed to be (among other things of course) something of a national cheer leader and trend setter. That’s essentially your entire role as Head of State (though the President is also Head of Government). You can’t make laws, but your goals and how you use the bully pulpit shapes the national dialogue. I think this moment pretty much set the tone for how middling, stiff and awkward the Carter presidency was. It’s the same kind of half-measure as I took issue with in the Malaise speech, where he acknowledged that consumerism was not the way to happiness but then trailed off before really driving the point home or proposing any alternative. Then for good measure, Carter starts meandering about the “old dreams” and even calls himself weak and full of mistakes. I mean…damn, man. Like, have a little dignity will you? There’s something to be said for humbleness but is that really how you want to introduce your presidency?

This is perhaps the best example of a politician just rambling off a bunch of cliched talking points without putting them together into a cohesive sequence. (“this year marks a new beginning!”) It’s just a series of feel good “liberty, freedom, America, beauty” talking points that don’t form coherent series of thoughts. His convention speeches were very similar to this as well. Ultimately, Carter was a simple country peanut farmer and it shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with someone of more rural/small town origins as President, but still, it helps to have a decent grasp of rhetoric considering how much of your job is rallying or consoling the public. This speech also has the least applause moments of any I’ve seen, at least as far as the inaugurals are concerned. The crowd, again like those at his two convention speeches, looks bored to tears.

Personally, I’d say Carter was the worst Democratic President, at least of the 20th century. He was a good man, especially with his post-presidential actions. But between helping to sabotage McGovern four years earlier and then sullying the Democratic brand with such a weak, right-wing, indecisive Presidency, he really did a lot of damage. In fact, I would say he more than anyone else with the exception of Reagan, is responsible for the dramatic shift to the right in American politics. And this is a lackluster speech by any objective measure. Even the way he ends it, with that quick “thank you very much” is just so…anticlimactic. It’s like when a high schooler finishes a presentation and wants to sit down quickly before anyone can ask any questions.

Truman 1949

It’s hard to hear this one because the sound quality of the recording is so bad. It begins with a stupid reiteration of what “we” believe, among those that all men are created equal…and blah blah blah the usual talking points. Truman mentions how the goal of America is peace on Earth. He directly calls out Communism as a false philosophy and talks up democracy and how government protects the rights of the individual. He lays out 4 specific goals his administration will adhere to: support the UN, war and economic recovery, support “freedom loving nations,” and science will be shared to the developing world. Unlike Eisenhower, whose list was far longer at 10 and he exhaustively explained each one, Truman quickly shoots off each of his. It’s appreciated, and more effective in a speech.

This is a quick, largely forgettable speech. But to be fair, that might also have a lot to do with the fact that at this point I’m just so sick of these it’s not even funny.

Bush II 2001

This is the other inaugural address I watched live. I remember liking Bush at the time; I even voted for him twice in a mock election at school. I told my parents about that, and my dad teased me about it while we watched this speech together. Obviously I was too young to understand much, and looking back at Bush’s terrible legacy this is kind of a bittersweet memory.

It looks like thanking the previous president for his service seems to be the custom with the inaugural addresses. Obama did it to Bush in 2008 and Bush is doing it to Clinton here. I expect to see the trend going further back than that, and I also expect to see Trump break it today. [Spoiler: He did not.] What’s new this time around is thanking the opponent for a spirited campaign–I wonder if Bush felt he had to, considering the shenanigans in Florida.

There’s another reference to being created in God’s image in this speech like his ’04 inaugural. Kind of a weird thing to bring up twice, I’d say, even if I agreed with the sentiment. There’s talk about addressing problems, not passing them along to the children. I agree 100%, but it rings hallow coming from the man who would leave us trillions in debt. There is a lot more talk about freedom abroad too, especially considering his rhetoric at the debates. His weird talking point about prisons comes out kinda clunky too. Something about having order in our souls. I really don’t understand what he’s trying to say. There’s another clunky talking point when he brings up poverty. He says something about how, when we see a wounded traveler on the road to Jericho (??) “we will not pass to the other side.” Like…what the hell is this guy talking about? Is this some oblique biblical reference I don’t get? I know what Jericho is but…what the hell? Can you talk to all Americans please, and not just those who share your cult? Thanks.

It’s bad. Moving on.

Bush II 2005

It’s always a chore listening to this man speak–even if you’re one of the few who supported his polices, he’s just a bad orator. His were among the only 3 convention speeches, President and VP, that I literally couldn’t stand to finish watching. Bush II was said to have a certain average joe charm and likability, but I don’t see it and never did. To me, he just comes off as an empty headed phony trying to sound folksy.

Take for example when he begins discussing 9/11, calling it “a day of fire, when our vulnerability was revealed.” Everyone who follows politics knows that Bush didn’t take his intelligence briefing on Bin Laden seriously and that was the cause of 9/11. I also think it’s a bullshit talking point to say that our continued liberty depends on the liberty of other countries. I’m sorry, but that’s completely false and even Bush has to realize it. Whether we are a democracy or not has nothing to do with what’s going on in the Middle East or Russia or some sub-Saharan African nation. That’s an outdated, militaristic, neoconservative lie. A relic of Cold War thinking. And I say even Bush knows it’s a lie because he originally campaigned as a non-interventionist in 2000, and even accused Gore of being too willing to get involved in other countries’ affairs during the debates.

It just gets cringier as it goes on too, as Bush says that men and women have value because they were made in God’s image. Call me crazy, I thought we all have value because we’re all thinking, feeling, independent people with infinite potential and we have empathy for our own kind. After every other sentence, Bush stops and waits for applause, and after a second or two when they sense this, the audience reluctantly obliges. Like Obama, there are a lot of hypocritical talking points, like how America doesn’t tolerate oppression…coming from the guy who signed off on the PRISM program. And it just drones on and on talking about the freedom of OTHER countries, to the point where I just want to scream “what about THIS country?!?” I certainly don’t expect this to be common to the inaugural addresses, all this focus on foreign countries and not what’s going on in our own. And that’s because it SHOULD NOT be that way.

A pretty bad speech, but surprisingly not one of his worst I’ve seen (this including all the conventions speeches and stuff). It’s certainly better than his own convention speeches particularly. But it’s completely focused on other countries at the expense of our own, and in a sinister neoconservative context to boot. Bush talks about freedom, democracy and inter-connectivity as he lied to get us into Iraq, isolated Iran by calling them part of the “axis of evil” and alienated our allies. He keeps droning on and on about this too, so that even a neocon ought to be thinking “all right dude, wrap it up” by at least 16 or so minutes in. You could make a great drinking game by taking a swig every time he says “freedom.”

Bush I 1989

Bush Snr and his son Jeb are far and away the two most awkward people I’ve ever seen in national politics. Just…just had to get that out of my system.

Anyway, Bush thanks Reagan, which is not surprising at all. I’ll forgive the Washington reference this time because it’s the bicentennial of the first inauguration. But then he leads the group in a prayer which I think is totally, completely inappropriate. Seriously, it’s called separation of church and state. Keep your God out of my politics. And to anyone saying “oh come on, it’s just a man expressing his faith. Lighten up.” No. If a President gave a Muslim prayer, or Hindu or something…and God knows if someone like me ever got elected and talked about the spiritual nature of an acid trip, we all know the Christian Right would lose their shit over it. Hell, if someone like me as a bisexual, let alone a transwoman even just got elected they’d raise hell on that alone whether I mentioned it or not. All I’m saying is, keep it inclusive and keep it secular. That’s really not asking much at all.

I like what Daddy Bush has to say about how we cannot just hope that our children have bigger cars and houses, but rather we need to teach them to be better people than we were and leave the world better than we found it. I think it’s shocking though, when he references young women who are about to become mothers, and says how they might not want to, and might not love their children. It sounds very much to me like he’s talking about the kind of reluctant mothers who would normally just make the personal and private choice to have an abortion. Bush goes on to say he’ll give them love and guidance and his blessing for “choosing life.” As if they’d even have a choice, if the Religious Right had their way. And holy shit, what an awful, condescending sentiment. That women should be forced to rear kids they don’t want, and kids who did not ask to be born should have to live a miserable existence knowing their parents resent them and/or cannot take care of them. This makes me so viscerally angry it’s hard to express in mere words. Especially since it’s people like him who are the first to cut benefits for single mothers, shame them as “welfare queens” and whores while acting so self righteous about it. Because slaving away to support a kid you don’t want, with nothing but scorn from the so called righteous evangelicals, that’s a fair and just consequence for the crime of having sex as a woman. This is the single most disgusting moment of any inaugural address.

Even if you’re personally against abortion as an option for women, can we at least agree that it was unnecessary and inappropriate, even crass, to bring such a divisive issue up during the inaugural address? I mean, the purpose of these things is supposed to unite the country after a heated election season. To go out of your way to condescend to women like that is just so unbecoming of a man who would presume to be a leader. Along with the prayer, it’s unbelievably antagonistic and lacking in tact.

“We have more will than wallet…but will is what we need” is another little “Bushism” for y’all. What does that even mean? He talks about how the parties are “too far apart and distrusting of each other.” Which is pretty two faced when you consider how his VP gave perhaps the nastiest, most mean spirited convention speech of all time just a few months before this address. Or how Bush himself would go out of his way to laugh about the failure of “McGovernism” in the very next convention. At the same convention, Buchanan would also give a slimy little speech of his own, calling the Democrats “cross dressers” among other things. So I find this talking point to be the epitome of hypocrisy. I don’t need to go back to the conventions to prove it either–again, just look at what he’s done in this speech thus far and ask yourself why people might distrust him and by extension his party.

Then this asshole even has the gall to talk about the drug war in his speech. Like, come on. This isn’t an attempt to unite the country or celebrate the democratic process, it’s a political stump speech. The demonization of drugs is also rich coming from the guy who was director of the CIA and then VP when the CIA is alleged to have been smuggling drugs around for profit. This man has absolutely no shame, and this is unsurprisingly the worst speech yet by far from a rhetorical standpoint.

Bush Jr was worse in terms of delivery and aimlessness, but at least his didn’t make me feel as angry or disgusted as his father. From the unjustifiable precedent of bringing prayer into an inauguration, to the smug, domineering attitude towards women, to the hypocrisy, to the stupid drug fear-mongering, this speech has it all. It’s maybe the most dated and shameful speech in US politics I’ve yet seen.

LBJ 1965

Johnson says the oath he has just taken is not his alone, but all of the country’s. Interesting sentiment, and a unique start.

Honestly though, just three minutes in and it’s pretty obvious to me that LBJ, as great and underrated though he is, was a pretty mediocre orator as far as Presidents go. I do not believe he could have gotten elected on his own merits as a campaigner were it not for the massive goodwill that came after JFK’s assassination plus the fact that his opponent was considered a dangerous reactionary. I’m glad he did of course, because of the Great Society and Civil Rights, but man his speech is…so…slow…it’s just hard to watch.

This is just unwatchable. It’s like on a TV show when a character is really old, and they’re made to speak in a ridiculously slow, drawn out manner for comedic effect. Except this isn’t an exaggeration or joke, it’s real life. I’m conflicted over how to react to this. In terms of oratory skills, it is by far the worst I’ve heard. The rhetoric isn’t bad, but it’s hard to really focus on what he’s saying, when he’s only speaking like 5 words a minute. I think this is similar to Nixon’s ’68 inaugural in that it’s one I’ll have to revisit in written form to get the full impact from. It pains me to say this as an LBJ defender, but I just couldn’t make it through this one. It was that bad.

The words may well be wise. As is, I liked the focus on space very much. But the delivery is so bad I couldn’t focus. And for the President, that’s just inexcusable. LBJ was never a particularly great speaker, but he was never this bad before in his convention speeches, as President or VP. I’m noticing a pattern here, where a lot of these Presidents’ inaugural addresses are surprisingly worse than their other speeches. The only one thus far who did better in this format was Ford, and that was more due to the special requirements of his speech because of the context than anything else. But Reagan, Obama, Nixon, Clinton and more all give their notably worst speeches in this series.

Trump 2017

It’s his usual stump speech again. All the doom and gloom of his convention speech, though thankfully not nearly as long. I was expecting it to be longer, since Trump seems to love the spotlight, and his mind seems to “reset” every 20 minutes so that he begins talking anew about something else. I was expecting him to break precedent and not call out to Obama to thank him for his service, but he did. However, it was definitely something of an empty gesture since this entire speech is a big “fuck you” to the previous administration. It’s also rich hearing Trump talk about the “peaceful and orderly” transfer of power considering he was playing around with the idea of not conceding if he lost.

The speech is especially historic in its negative tone, while literally every other inaugural up to this point was positive and setting idealistic goals for the future. He’s also very much addressing only the concerns of those who voted for him, rather than uniting people by talking about principles or goals which everyone can get behind–though to be fair, Papa Bush did the same thing. I’m not sure if Trump realizes the historical context and precedents of an inaugural address and purposely set out to break them or if he was just genuinely ignorant of them and winged it like so much else of his candidacy.

Watching this, I can now better understand why the other inaugural addresses stuck to the platitudes and buzzwords—yes it’s somewhat boring and by the numbers, but it doesn’t alienate anyone. This speech by Trump does. I actually do like a lot of the sentiments he talks about here, it’s just that I don’t trust Trump to actually carry any of it out. If it were Bernie or someone with integrity saying some of this rhetoric, it would speak to me a lot more. I saw this speech live and thought it was just typical Trump fare and gave it not a second thought. But now, after seeing the rest of the speeches which led up to this, and with his first couple actions as President, and the reality setting in that this man is our President…it strikes me as a lot worse than it did initially. I’m so sick of this man, his stupidity, his 4th grade vocabulary, his divisive politics, and his ongoing murder towards the dignity of the office.

I spent the entire year defending this guy from what I considered to be hyperbolic accusations of Nazism, I admired a few of his genuinely brilliant campaign/marketing strategies during the primaries, I was hoping for that “inevitable” pivot in the general, and offered the benefit of the doubt time after time. Even after he won, I tried to be cautiously optimistic and look for the good in him. I just can’t do that anymore, and frankly it shocks and worries me some of my friends and family are still going along for the ride with this joker. Trump’s proven beyond any possible doubt he’s exactly the crude, stupid, dangerous man many people tried to warn us he would be. And even putting my personal feelings on the man aside, this is an awful speech on its own merits. The fact that it will now take place next to the lofty heights of JFK and company’s eloquent words makes me ashamed to be an American.

I think this speech will go down in history as a sad turning point in American history. The moment we lost our prestige and preeminence in the world. The beginning of the end of the Pax Americana. The emergence of a Sulla type figure, whose actions broke the Republic and set the stage for a more charismatic, more talented Caesar to follow in his footsteps in the future and become a full fledged Dictator. For all intents and purposes, the day America died.

Summary

The men famous for their oratory prowess do the best jobs again, unsurprisingly. JFK, Clinton, Obama and Nixon are the standouts. Reagan is good, but surprisingly not as good as you’d expect given his reputation and campaign charisma. The one who improves the most over his other presidential speeches is Ford, who gave a surprisingly touching and effective address here. The Bushes, Carter and Eisenhower were my least favorite convention speeches and they are also towards the bottom here. The biggest dip in quality from convention to inauguration is LBJ. He was never a great orator from my perspective, but he was always good. Yet his delivery at the inauguration is so slow and stilted that it’s the only speech I literally couldn’t bring myself to finish watching.

The ’60s and ’90s were the best decades of addresses here. I especially loved how the former talked so much about space, technology and the paradox of science having the power to destroy us. The worst decade was the ’50s, with forced prayers and dated fear-mongering/Cold War mentality.

Overall, I was surprised how boring these speeches were. A big part of it is my political burnout from doing so much research, and disillusionment with the Trump situation, I’m sure. But still, aside from JFK and Nixon’s two, I have no desire to watch or read the transcripts for any of these again. In contrast, there are a lot of convention speeches and at least 4 farewell speeches (from a much smaller pool) I see myself coming back to in the future.

The qualities which made me prefer the convention speeches included: the fact that real policy was discussed, there was more personality and differences allowed, and I felt like I really knew and understood the speakers’ as people after watching them. The qualities I appreciated from the farewell speeches included: the unusually blunt warnings/admission of flaws in our society and the peek at what goes on in the mind of a leader as they made their decisions. I didn’t get anything like that watching the inaugural speeches. It just felt like a lot of vacuous platitudes, lowest common denominator buzz-phrases, generalized promises and little else. They’re too scripted, too watered down to appeal to a mass audience (the whole nation) without alienating them since you need mass support to get anything done. Strategically, I understand why this has to happen, but it doesn’t make for a compelling experience as a listener, especially seeing so many of them back to back.

The only two of these I would consider classic or iconic in the context of our political heritage would be JFK’s and Reagan’s first. They provide the two most influential quotes in modern American history; I’d wager that either line is repeated more often than anything said in all the other inaugural speeches combined. These two quotes are often used as the call to arms for their respective parties, and beyond that they embody the overarching values of their respective eras in time. (JFK’s being the Liberal Era and 5th Party System, Reagan’s being the Dynastic Era and 6th Party System.) Nixon’s speeches, especially 1968, would almost certainly be more favorably thought of today had he not disgraced himself. I think it’s on the same level as JFK and Reagan, but unfortunately nobody will ever be quoting Nixon in any positive context due to the legacy of Watergate. So this great speech has gone largely unappreciated on its own objective merits.

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