Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton"s Second Inaugural Address : Bridge to 21st Century May Include a Toll

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton"s Second Inaugural Address : Bridge to 21st Century May Include a Toll

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton approached the 21st century with the rhetoric of the 19th. His inaugural speech, 22 minutes of foggy references and McGuffeyesque bromides about the human spirit, sounded as though he were reading from Billy Graham's text. The speech had its moments but it suffered most from an enormous handicap. The president had little to say.

That's OK. A presidential inauguration is a pastry of an event - puffed up and sweet to the eye, but lacking much in the way of content. Just a few stand out - Lincoln's second, FDR's first and JFK's only. The rest are mostly forgotten and, one would presume, deservedly so. But those that are remembered had more than rhetoric going for them. They were delivered by great men in time of crisis.

With all due respect, Clinton is not a great man - in fact, he could not be. Among other things, he is the victim of poor timing. The country is both peaceful and prosperous, and Clinton, as he must surely know, has made only a marginal contribution to any of this. But we live in the age of the wind chill factor. To the most mundane of temperatures is given the additional drama of wind and so we are all made to feel that we are living in exceptional times. A man such as Clinton, someone who always wanted to be president, cannot bring himself to admit that he has been cheated by history. He got what he wanted, but at the wrong time. Kennedy had the Cold War, Lincoln the Civil War and FDR both a war and the Depression. Clinton has, what? The Internet? He mentioned it twice in his speech. It would have been appropriate then for Clinton to have used a more modest rhetorical typeface for his address. Clinton, though, reached for soaring language - a kind of Gothic - to talk about the government doing less, "one that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more with less." If that is the bridge to the 21st century, and I am not quibbling with the facts, then it will probably demand a toll. Only when it came to race - always and, it seems, forever the preside nt's most deeply felt issue - did Clinton seem to come alive. …

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