Here's a bit of advice when considering Barack Obama second inaugural address on January 21: Don't take anything he says very seriously. For all the hype they receive, inaugural addresses rarely foretell what a president will accomplish in office. In fact, the men who utter grand principles and make big promises every four years often contradict them, willingly or not, soon after they begin their terms.
Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pp., $40) The histories we write say as much about our own times as about those we study. The current polarization in Washington has prompted a nostalgia for parties that were less ideologically uniform and more prone to compromise. Fashionable “pragmatism” has similarly infected thinking about foreign policy, as the fallout from the Iraq war lingers in the air a decade on.
If I were attempting anything like an appraisal of Herbert Croly I should say, I think, that he was the first important political philosopher who appeared in America in the twentieth century. I should say that “The Promise of American Life” was the political classic which announced the end of the Age of Innocence with its romantic faith in American destiny and inaugurated the process of self-examination. That is, of course, the opinion of a very grateful friend; yet I believe it will be justified when our history is sufficiently distant and neutral to be interpreted.
Livonia, Michigan—Rick Santorum is running on fumes. His is the curse of insurgent presidential campaigns—too much passion and too little sleep. You could hear it in his voice Monday morning talking to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Livonia as the decibel level grew higher, the diction grew muddier, and the logorrhea grew more obvious. An open-ended question on Social Security prompted a nine-minute Santorum monologue.
After a disappointing showing in Florida, Newt Gingrich may soon need to give up his dream of becoming President of the United States (not to mention “Definer of civilization”). It will probably be a while yet until Newt qualifies for food stamps, but in the meantime we thought we’d offer him some pro bono career counseling. The former Speaker is ambitious; he’s well-educated; and even if his historical analysis is shoddy, even we’ll admit he’s not a dumb guy.
Empowered to endow in more ways than one, the National Endowment for the Arts did its job of bestowing prestige at a lavish event at Jazz at Lincoln Center this past week in honor of five musicians named as NEA Jazz Masters: the drummer Jack DeJohnette, the saxophonist Von Freeman, the bassist Charlie Haden, the singer Sheila Jordan, and the trumpeter Jimmy Owens.