- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Why do we; why should we care about the Inauguration? There really isn’t much drama. Indeed, no president-elect has ever balked and failed to take the oath of office. Moreover, except for George Washington’s two-paragraph second Inaugural address, the speeches have often been predictable — sometimes windy, even formulaic.

We watch Inaugurations, first, because in our open society, momentous scenes are not veiled in secrecy but bathed in light. We bear witness to the oath taken by our elected president. Like guests at a family wedding, we become part of the event. And we listen to our elected president’s words. We judge our president-elect by these, his first words as our commander in chief.

In history, many themes seem to resonate through the Inaugural addresses. Education, poverty, crime, war and peace all appear over and over in Inauguration Day speeches. But the importance of God’s guidance and the wonderful goodness of hope permeates many great American Inaugural addresses.

We should not be surprised many presidents invoke the name of God, maybe even offer a prayer themselves for the success of the nation (and their presidency?), and offer us hope at the Inauguration. Their task is large; their support sometimes fleeting. One might wonder at the overconfident man in such a difficult situation. Normal men ask for God’s help and offer us all a hopeful vision of the future.

On Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” He asked us to answer a “call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.”

On Jan. 20, 1969, Richard M. Nixon reminded us, “Forces now are converging that make possible, for the first time, the hope that many of man’s deepest aspirations can at last be realized.” He also said, “We see the hope of tomorrow in the youth of today.”

Abraham Lincoln, in his second Inaugural, looked with hope upon the end of the Civil War. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Lincoln delivered these words on March 4, 1865. Just a month and 10 days after he delivered this speech, on April 14, Lincoln was assassinated.

President Eisenhower evoked hope. On Jan. 20, 1953, he reminded the nation “we view our nation’s strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere.”

President James A. Garfield suggested a halt in the march of mankind, just for a moment, to reflect upon hope’s importance. In his March 4, 1881, Inaugural, he said: “Before continuing the onward march, let us pause on this height for a moment to strengthen our faith and renew our hope by a glance at the pathway along which our people have traveled.”

Inauguration Day is a day of hope and prayer. No other day in America is so steeped in prayer. No other day in the American calendar so often reverberates with the theme of hope.

Oh, many moments in American life begin with prayer: including the opening of House and Senate sessions in the Capitol. But at our Inaugurations, one can feel the sincerity of men thrust into the maelstrom. Greater Washington seems to become a great cathedral of hope and prayer — before it immediately returns to a nation that separates church and state.

What, exactly, is hope? You can’t buy anything with it and nobody can prove it helps you in life. So what is hope?

Hope is an amputee veteran of the war in Iraq who wants to learn to ski. Hope is the cancer victim who won’t give in. Hope keeps the terminally ill calm and the pinned-down platoon together. Hope is the antithesis of despair, the enemy of our darkest fears.

Even after the full magnitude of the destruction and death from the recent tsunami became obvious, man still had hope. Hope is one of those emotions unique to mankind. It sometimes defies reason and fights off evil thoughts of surrender.

And Inauguration Day is America’s unique day of hope. Whatever the speech, whoever the president-elect: a key player in every Inauguration Day is bound to be the Almighty and his right-hand man: Hope.

John E. Carey is a writer in Falls Church, Va.

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