WNYT.com

Poli-Sci Prof: President's words important

Posted at: 01/20/2013 10:48 PM
Updated at: 01/21/2013 1:42 AM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - President Barack Obama's second inaugural address comes at a moment in history when several major issues are on the minds of Americans -- gun control, climate change, and immigration reform, to name a few.

So what will the president be speaking about during his inaugural address on Sunday?

Professor Ron Seyb says the president will be facing the same dilemma that Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan faced at their second inaugurals. He also says President Obama needs to invoke the wisdom of Lyndon Johnson.

When President Obama came into office four years ago, the name was, in his words, "in the midst of crisis". We were at war, the economy was badly weakened, and there was a "nagging fear that America's decline was inevitable."

On the even of his second term in office, if history holds, the president's inaugural theme will likely change.

"Second inaugurals usually aren't terribly memorable, with the exception of Lincoln," Seyb points out. "Primarily because (the president) has already been through a term, has a record, and is thinking more about concrete achievements."

Seyb says even if the president's message is less then memorable, that doesn't mean it's unimportant.

"I think words are always important," he says, "When a president utters something, says a sentence, or a paragraph, or what ever it is, it makes policy, it shapes perception, it shapes public expectations, and it shapes international leaders' perceptions of the United States."

Seyb also notes President Obama first entered office as an outsider, a catalyst of change for Washington, something he can no longer bank on, but something he shares with predecessors.

"Ronald Reagan ran as an outsider, then in his second term, he had to be more of an insider," he says, "Bill Clinton had the same trajectory, so that's always the dilemma."

Another possible dilemma, according to Seyb, is that in a president's second term in office, the clock seems to be ticking a little bit faster.

"I think Obama is really thinking about that first year, because as Lyndon Johnson said, you really have to do things really in the first six months," Seyb continues. "Particularly in the second term because the political capital erodes very quickly and he becomes a lame duck very, very quickly."

On the eve of Barack Obama's second term, throngs of his campaign volunteers gathered in Washington hotels on Sunday where they began discussing plans to form a new nonprofit aimed at supporting the president's legislative agenda.