The Inaugural Address as Constitutional Statesmanship
73 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2009 Last revised: 15 Nov 2010
Date Written: December 8, 2009
On January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama used his considerable rhetorical skills in his inaugural address to compellingly describe national conditions and propose an aggressive agenda for political action by his administration. Yet he, like other modern presidents, failed to engage in any meaningful reflection on the scope and limits of his constitutional powers or those of the Congress, to anchor his policy agenda to constitutional authority, or even to mention the Constitution or the Congress by name. His address exemplifies an extreme form of popular leadership common to the modern presidency that neglects explicit discussion of and reliance upon constitutional forms, a problem captured in the evolving literature on The Rhetorical Presidency. This Article engages the construct of The Rhetorical Presidency inside the realm of legal scholarship, where it deserves greater attention and development, and attempts to reconcile its concerns with the realities of popular rhetoric in the modern presidency by proposing a constitutionalist model for the presidential inaugural address. The inaugural address, this Article asserts, is a unique constitutional moment at which the president should specifically engage publicly in constitutional discourse, particularly to articulate his understanding of the allocation of constitutional powers and of the scope of his responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. This model for the inaugural address would instantiate energy in the executive and would serve the interest of responsible civic education by seeking to strengthen public attachment to, and understanding of, constitutional rule.
Keywords: Presidency, Constitutionalism
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