The passing of the torch of leadership on Inauguration Day is usually a lofty occasion, on which political differences are put aside for the sake of national unity. Most incoming presidents observe this protocol in their Inaugural Addresses and speak graciously of their predecessors, but in his, Barack Obama broke the string. Although he began graciously, "I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition," Obama proceeded to take exceptions to George W. Bush's track record. And although he did not charge Bush specifically, there was no mistaking these points of attack:
• "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
• "...the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply."
• "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
David Sanger, the White House correspondent for The New York Times, who has been with the newspaper for over 24 years, and has seen his fair share of Inaugural Addresses observed that Obama's words "must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Bush. No stranger to criticism, over the past eight years he had rarely been forced to sit in silence listening to a speech about how America had gone off the rails on his watch...not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a 'restoration' of American ethics and 'action, and action now' as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor's path."
Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," who has had eight years of field days publicly rejecting the essence of Barack Obama's predecessor, actually took a different tack in his Inauguration Day episode. Stewart used the occasion to demonstrate parallels rather than differences between Bush and Obama. Using video clips of prior Bush speeches, Stewart juxtaposed them with clips from Obama's Inaugural Address:
• Bush on January 19, 2008: "Freedom is the universal gift of an Almighty God."
• Obama Inaugural: "The God-given promise that all are equal, all are free"
• Bush on October 17, 2006: "We'll work with our friends and allies across the world to defend our way of life."
• Obama Inaugural: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense"
• Bush on July 22, 2008: "We can usher in a new era of enhanced prosperity and peace."
• Obama Inaugural: "America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
• Bush on January 20, 2005: "Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?"
• Obama Inaugural: "We carried forth that great gift of freedom"
Jon Stewart's video razzle-dazzle notwithstanding, "the torch has been passed" as John F. Kennedy said in his famous Inaugural sound bite. And in that passage, it is noteworthy to recall JFK's subsequent - perhaps less famous - words: "... to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today."