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Hugh Hewitt: A gloomy swearing-in

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Attendance at Monday’s inauguration is expected to be down by almost a million from the 2009 swearing-in of President Obama.

Why? President Obama ran the most negative, content-free presidential campaign in modern American history, and since his re-election has worked to reinforce his partisan edge, not soften it.

His two press conferences since Nov. 6 have been exercises in evasion and blame assignment, and his “no negotiation” positioning on the debt ceiling has already served notice that the second term will be one long scrum, political trench warfare.

Republicans who might have been inclined to give much more than they got from a re-elected president, despite their own successful campaigns and a House majority, have had all reasonable hope for constructive engagement destroyed. The president wants to brawl, and it is impossible to argue otherwise.

Even the Manhattan-Beltway media elite are waking up to the president’s intent. The question set at last week’s presser, especially those incredulous queries about the debt limit from Chuck Todd and Major Garrett, signaled that even the White House press corps, puppyish in their affection for the president, have a limit when it comes to the willing suspension of disbelief.

No wonder the mood in the country is gloomy and the prospects for a surge in growth or confidence low to nonexistent. The bills for Obamacare are coming due, another terrorist attack from al Qaeda has claimed American blood, and the trillion-dollar coin absurdity merged into magazine clip debates as the public debate slipped into serial inanity.

We apparently are as resigned to a dispirited four years as CNN is to Piers Morgan. CNN is in better shape, of course, because someone is going to wake up someday to the reality of the impact of a lightweight on audience share and pull Morgan’s ticket. But President Obama is here until January 2016.

This is the backdrop to today’s speech. Even on the Left, there isn’t much hope in the president or enthusiasm for his policies. A few special interests are trusting that his unilateralism will yield even greater departures from constitutional norms, but no serious person is expecting anything much from the next two years.

Maybe today’s speech will inspire, but there is no reason to believe it will have any more lasting impact than any other Obama speech. Quick — quote an Obama line or cite an Obama speech the memory of which still puts people to smiling. The Boston convention speech from 2004 is notable for what it launched, not for what he said. The June 3, 2008, St. Paul speech, marking the president’s clinching of the Democratic nomination, did have that wonderful moment in which the candidate proclaimed that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” But critics of the president are much more likely to cite that than supporters.

The first inaugural? The acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte? Any address to Congress?

The president is the only alleged great speechmaker whose supporters can’t quote any of his speeches. He’s also among the weakest re-elected presidents, given that the House is solidly in the other party’s control and not at all inclined to defer to a president who has already launched the next campaign.

The parade will have wonderful young people marching, the parties will be full and fun, and the president’s genuinely wonderful family will add some lift to the day.

The following day is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the first working day of a long four years. The hangover will be historic.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at


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