||Syndicated columnist Robert Novak is co-host of CNN's "Evans Novak, Hunt & Shields," as well as "Crossfire." He is providing exclusive convention analysis for CNN.com.|
Robert Novak: Inauguration speech is Bush's first test
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The last two inaugural addresses by new presidents were surprises. Each new president took positions not even hinted at in his campaign. In 1989, the senior President George Bush followed his contentious, confrontational candidacy with a call for lowered voices. In 1993, after a campaign in which he had promised everything to the voters, President Bill Clinton implored them to make personal sacrifices.
Will Bush follow the same dubious course as his Republican father and his
Democratic predecessor in floating something new and not entirely coherent?
There is no sign that he will do so Saturday, but there was no signal from
either Bush senior or Clinton when they departed from previous statements.
So, Test No. 1 for George W. Bush's is whether he will not stray from his
clear ideology and policy agenda in an effort to please people who never
have -- and never will -- support him.
To be sure, the new president is well aware that he is being sworn into
office after the nation's most bitterly disputed electoral count since 1876.
Without a mandate from the American people, it is not possible for him to lay
out a clear and decisive agenda such as President Reagan offered at his first
inaugural in 1981.
Test No. 2, therefore, is whether Bush -- as an elected president who
finished second in the popular vote -- is able to sound a healing, conciliatory
tone without also seeming to be apologetic and defensive.
In the background of the Bush inauguration is the debate over the new
president's proposed tax reductions. Prominent supporters wish his inaugural
address would include something like this:
"We have been laboring under the highest peacetime federal burden in the
history of the Republic. Of course, we could not continue prosperity, growth
and full employment with taxes at that level. So, to avoid an economic
slowdown and pain for Americans, we must reduce tax rates across-the-board
for everybody who actually pays taxes."
Consequently, Test No. 3 is whether Bush will go beyond generalities and
talk about so political and combative, but still highly important, a question
as tax reduction. I am not optimistic on this one.
Finally, Test No. 4 is the familiar one applied always applied to new
presidents. Has he inspired America?
This test has been passed by some 20th century presidents -- always in their
first term inaugural. Franklin D. Roosevelt did in 1933, during the depths of
the Depression, when he said the only thing for Americans to fear was fear
itself. John F. Kennedy did in 1961, at a time when the country seemed unsure
of itself, by urging citizens to ask what they could do for their country.
Ronald Reagan did in 1981, in the midst of Jimmy Carter's malaise, by calling
for a peaceful revolution to get the federal government off the backs of its
Most presidents flunk Test No. 4. The last three inaugural speeches -- the
senior Bush's and both of Clinton's -- were duds. All were inspiration-free.
George W. Bush's address will be judged mainly by whether they surpass those