David Stokes

With apologies to Dion and his now 40-year-old song - Abraham, Martin, and John - I see the ghosts of three past presidents standing slightly off stage as the nation watches the approach of inauguration day.  

The ancient Israelites tended to name-drop a patriarchal hat trick when they wanted their rhetoric to stick.  Crying out about, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” was enough to speak with authority.  For a politician these days, especially the highly successful one who will have to settle on seeing the White House from his Hay-Adams Hotel room window before actually moving in, there is no better political triumvirate to invoke than the really big three: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration will certainly be one to remember.  Anticipation alone exceeds anything in recent memory.  The convergence of historic imagery and the fact that so many challenges await our 44th president, make this transition something that rivals only a few such moments from our nation’s past.

The inaugural prayer has become a source of controversy, and now the oath itself – at least the suffix “so help me God” – is under fire.  I am sure Mr. Obama hopes what he has to say in his maiden address as our new president will be so resounding that any other pre-inaugural firestorm will fade into distant memory like that burning space heater on the platform in January 1961.

From the start, the Obama campaign dispensed with any pretense of subtlety as it sought to conjure up and identify with images of past presidential greatness.  He announced his candidacy surrounded by all things Lincoln, solidified political support at a key primary point by tapping into the still apparently potent power of Camelot, and raced to the November finish line sounding a lot like Mr. New Deal. 

His cabinet complete, his team now in place, and his much deserved (and no doubt needed) Hawaiian vacation over, the next event on the calendar is the inauguration itself.  And all pre-inaugural controversies notwithstanding, central to that event will be the speech.  The new man from Illinois has already demonstrated the ability to come through during big speeches – but this one is the granddaddy of them all. 

No doubt he has been reading up for a long time on the inaugural addresses of his ghostly trio.  But will he be able to deliver something that will rise to the standards they set?


David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared