Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 20, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Students Watch the Inauguration


  • Eighth grade students from Kyrene Altadena Middle School in Ahwatukee use the presidential inauguration as a learning experience.
Guests:
  • Patrick Kenney - Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Arizona State University


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on Horizon, America has a new president. Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th president, and the first African-American chief of state. Tonight on the special edition of Horizon we have complete coverage of the day's ceremonies. That's coming up next on horizon.

Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Barack Obama became president at just after 10:00 this morning Arizona time. His swearing in witnessed by an estimated 2 million people on the national mall and many millions more on television. Here are some of this morning's key moments.

Announcer:
Ladies and gentlemen, the 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Reverend Rick Warren:
With the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. [cheers and applause] We are so grateful.

Aretha Franklin:
[singing] My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee of sing.

Joseph Biden:
I Joseph Biden junior do solemnly swear.

John Paul Stevens:
That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Joseph Biden:
That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

John Roberts:
Are you prepared to take the oath, senator?

Barack Obama:
I am.

John Roberts:
I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear.

Barack Obama:
I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear.

John Roberts:
That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.

Barack Obama:
That I will execute --

John Roberts:
the faithfully the office of president of the United States.

Barack Obama:
the office of president of the united states faithfully. My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America. [cheers and applause] For everywhere we look there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift and we will act, not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth. To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the west know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those -- let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on the horizon, and god's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. Thank you. God bless you. And God Bless the United States of America. [cheers and applause]

Ted Simons:
Joining me now to talk about today's inauguration is A.S.U. Professor and chair of the department of political science, Patrick Kenney. Good to have you back on the program. Thanks for joining us. Thoughts on the speech�

Patrick Kenney:
The speech was dramatic, as anticipated. It was very serious in tone. One long theme that he ran through there was the bringing together of two ideas, one that we face a lot of challenges in the short-term and potentially in the long term, and that the way that those will be addressed resonates with this long history of the United States of facing challenges and overcoming. So he's linking our challenges to -- it's putting in political context, historical context, our challenges with our history.

Ted Simons:
Was there enough in the way of oratory skills that this would be remembered in that aspect?

Patrick Kenney:
I think there's several lines that will be remembered. Whether they are quite as historic as Roosevelt's, we don't have anything to fear but fear itself, something like that, I don't know, but there's two or three in there that are awfully eloquent, awfully strong that I think will be in there.

Ted Simons:
Was the speech in terms of history of inauguration speeches, do you think better or about the same or a little worse than most?

Patrick Kenney:
This afternoon I reread all the last seven or eight, all the way back to Roosevelt speeches. I think it clearly is on par with Kennedy and it's on par with F.D.R.'s first, '33, his first inaugural, and John Kennedy in '60. It's there in terms of oratory. It's placed in the same kind of context that Roosevelt was look at because of all the difficulties that we face off. I think its right in there. I think it's going to be heralded as one of the better speeches.

Ted Simons:
Were you surprised by the serious and sober nature, especially in the beginning of the speech, when he got things started, it was serious time right off the bat?

Patrick Kenney:
It was serious right off the bat. It resonates with Roosevelt's '33 speech. He was serious right off the bat and outlined what the problems were, he did that here. We saw this shift in Obama on election night when he came out in Grant Park. That was a very serious speech. This matches that. It's different than the rouse campaign speeches we saw him give in football stadiums. This had a different tenor because he is in charge, he is the leader now and he's taken away some of that rah rah.

Ted Simons:
Was there a chance though that inspiration could have been overshadowed by the sense of purpose and the sense of challenge?

Patrick Kenney:
I don't think so because I think the moment itself, you can see it on the people's faces, the numbers of the crowd, the people all over the country, the emotional impact of the moment itself, the historical precedent of what happened captured people's attention and their emotions. I don't think that he had to deliver a highly emotional speech. The emotion was already there.

Ted Simons:
What about the sense of celebration? This was an audience that was ready to celebrate just about anything associated with President Obama. Could there have been a little more of that?

Patrick Kenney:
Well, I think the celebration part came for about two weeks prior but certainly the last three days and it goes on in the parade and it goes on tonight. And I think he probably felt that that speech was not a moment to continue the celebration but to bring a sober look at what he wanted to do. So there's plenty of celebration around it and for those 18 minutes he wanted this to be a different kind of approach.

Ted Simons:
Do you think America, those there, those watching, now and at the time, there was a lot of talk about a lot of challenges ahead and hard work and nose to the grind stone; America ready for this?

Patrick Kenney:
I think America is ready because I don't know that we have a choice. Given two wars, given the economic news, I don't know that we have a choice. He really tried to call to our better angels in this that there's a lot of responsibility. He tried to define what it means to be a citizen. He started that yesterday, I think, with the all the work on the king holiday. He tried to push that theme again today. And I think the people who will be who this falls upon, lots of citizens, but elite citizens as well. I think that message has been delivered.

Ted Simons:
It was interesting, another aspect of the speech, you kind of heard what sounded almost like a Thomas Friedman column from the "New York Times," talk about energy and responsibility, and a way of making new things happen because the old wasn't necessarily working, helping our enemies but with our gas consumption, these sorts of things. It was interesting how that challenge was also laid out.

Patrick Kenney:
Right. There was a slice which is a little unusual, there's a slice in there of policy discussion, which you're talking about that usually is reserved for the state of the union address so we saw a little precursor of the state of the union address. What I think he was telling us is here is the broad plan to produce growth, to produce jobs. Here are where those jobs will be. Here's how I envision that to work. He wanted to give a little detail there.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to specific parts of the speech and take some clips from President Obama's inauguration speech and get your comments. The first one here was an interesting take on the partisan nature of the past eight years. And here's what President Obama had to say about that.

President Obama:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear. Unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to do petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that have for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation that god given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. [cheers and applause]

Ted Simons:
Got a young man talking about putting away childish things as far as partisanship and bickering and these sorts of things. What did you make of that?

Patrick Kenney:
What he is talking about there is something he's been talking about the entire campaign. He wants to move past this highly polarized politics. The polarization of the American politics really hits a peak in the mid to late '90s and continues into this decade. And we study this in political science we got a lot of measures of the partisan nature of behavior on Capitol Hill and in the elect rat. You see it '94. It runs to the end of the Clinton years. It stays with a slight stop around 9/11, picks up very closely after that. If you look there's a lot of serious policies that have not been passed because of that.

Ted Simons:
Is he addressing mostly those who are democrats or is he addressing republicans? I mean, it seems as though if you are a republican you are saying the democrats are partisan and vice versa. Who is he trying to connect with here?

Patrick Kenney:
He's trying connect with both. The center in American politics -- the center the way we looked at it in the '60s and '70s when republicans and democrats came together for massive pieces of legislation, like civil rights and voting rights, environmental legislation, transportation, that dropped out. The center dropped out of American politics in the 1990s. He is talking to both parties. He's talking to both groups of extreme left and right.

Ted Simons:
One of the reasons there is so much partisanship is because of the ideological split especially involving the role of government. Another clip I want to take a look at here with President Obama is, he kind of talks about government but puts it in the framework of ideology over pragmatism. Take a look.

President Obama:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them. That the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs of a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. When the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. When the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Ted Simons:
Is the country ready for a new pragmatism over some of the ideology that, on both sides, has been very strong here the past 10, 15 years?

Patrick Kenney:
That's exactly what he is talking about. He's appealing to us to lead that. There'll be elements of both parties that are not ready to move. We have already seen that in the post election. What he is saying is the ideological splits between the parties have left us with arguing over solutions without delivering those solutions and he is trying to set a whole different direction. This may be one of the most key parts of the speech when he is trying to define the role of government as moving toward solutions. He is saying the problems are large enough that government is necessary, but whether it be a large or small, that's immaterial to him. What works? What policies work? That's what he wants to work on.

Ted Simons:
Is America patient enough for policies that just might work but will take time?

Patrick Kenney:
That's a very good question. Public opinion sways dramatically, depending on performance. And so we would expect, by what we study, that if the performance doesn't come fairly quickly, that there will be some discord about that. Now, he is very good at, and has been working for the last month in trying to set expectations about the length that will look. I think he's looking at a two-year look, 18-month look. A lot of commentators are talking about six. I think that's too short. I think it's 18 because he has a democrat house and senate until the 2010 election. That's what he is looking at.

Ted Simons:
Is the kind of thing where we might see just a little thing here and a little thing there and just at least giving the image that something is getting done, something might be succeeding, maybe small in nature now but kind of revving things up toward the future?

Patrick Kenney:
I think you are going to see both at once. He's going to deliver small things so you can see them. That by the way will resonate with Roosevelt. Roosevelt was fantastic at delivering a program; showing the people how that was working. From what we are hearing he is going to tackle the medical industry, the medical coverage industry. He is talking about looking at social security. He's talking about a new energy policy. So I think that's going to be laid out all across these next 18 months.

Ted Simons:
I remember Reagan's speech about how government is not the solution to the problem but government is the problem; kind of all circling back now to where government needs to work.

Patrick Kenney:
Yeah, the problem, what he is saying is the problems are so large and we have seen that, right, without government action and intervention, regulation, the last four years, we have found ourselves in some fairly serious trouble especially in the financial world. So what he was saying, you can't go without government. He says that in another part of the speech. He talks about we haven't been taking a careful look at what the industry and things have been up to. So he's saying that has to be part of it is definitely repudiation of the Reagan just as small as possible.

Ted Simons:
One more sound bite here from the speech today regarding leadership. And this was something that struck me as he said it. It almost felt like a little of a soft bomb at the last administration, and the ideology therein. Again, this is President Obama talking about leadership.

President Obama:
and so to all the other people in governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. [cheers and applause]

Ted Simons:
That last line, "we are ready to lead once more," suggests that America is not either leading the right way or not leading at all. When he said that, that struck me; I mean, that's a bit of a shot there.

Patrick Kenney:
It's definitely a shot. There's a serious criticism of the Bush years especially post-9/11 that we went it alone and using your phrase not leading the correct way or not leading at all, no matter what measures you look at, public polls from Europe, the reaction of the Muslim world, we are not held in high esteem internationally. And some people have argued we have given up that role because we went solely on our own in a couple different directions, Iraq being the biggest one. And he's saying that those days are over. We are going to reenter the world arena as partners in trying to solve some of these issues.

Ted Simons:
To that end, a presidency, and again, this is the first African-American, there are people, even our age, who find this just amazing because it just seemed, you know, not so long ago to be improbable. Did it take a presidency of historically low popularity and support; did it take that to get to where we are now with an African-American president?

Patrick Kenney:
Yeah, it probably took that and here's why. It took that to deliver probably a democratic victory. And the likelihood of a democratic -of an African-American being a democrat is a much higher probability. And this trend starts in '06. The democrats recapture the house and senate. They were in good shape all throughout this election. If he didn't follow the day to day back and forth the overall fundamentals of that election favor the democrats. So the democrats were probably likely to win, and they are more likely to deliver an African-American candidate.

Ted Simons:
The speech today, for those who don't want a remaking of America, who don't want to see certain changes, who kind of liked the way things are or at least think things will get better without some of these very volatile type changes that are in the pipeline and have already happened, for those who don't want to remake America what do they take from today's speech?

Patrick Kenney:
If they don't want the direction he is talking about; they are going to be in the minority and they are going to be upset for the next two to four years because the democrats control both the house and senate. I don't believe the republicans are going to stand in the way of some of these major policy changes. They are going to want to be involved. They are going to want to shape them. But I don't think they are going to try to stand in the way. I do not think you are going to see two more years of gridlock politics. So if you are in the group that believes small government is the right way to go, you are going to be disappointed over the next few years.

Ted Simons:
We talked about some of the soft bombs maybe lobbed there in the speech and yet the conciliatory, I should say, nature of the transition, commentators have noticed this and said somewhat unusual. True? For an inauguration day, for that much, you know --

Patrick Kenney:
Yes; unusual and particularly in the last 15 years, maybe as far back as the mid '70s as unusual. You are looking back into an earlier time in this century, kind of Roosevelt through Eisenhower maybe; but absolutely unusual the last 20, 25 years no question about it. Again, another campaign promise that he is staying close to. So far he has stayed very close to what he said he would do.

Ted Simons:
2 million people on the mall. Who knows how many were watching and listening around the country and around the world? Let's go to those people on the mall that sacrificed so much to get there and stay there for this speech. What do they want?

Patrick Kenney:
The group that I think went, right, they wanted to be in the historical moment, to be there, to be in Washington, to capture the Potomac fever. There's a great yearning and you've seen it again since '06 forward for a change, a change in direction of policy, in approach, in spirit of government and I think he personifies that. Very eloquent, connects very well with people, and you are seeing that. And it's generated a lot of hope. And the hope is necessary to get over this serious bump that we are looking at.

Ted Simons:
Is the hope too much? Is there too much in the way of expectations from this man?

Patrick Kenney:
Yeah, expectations almost always exceed realities and what can be done. He has done his best the last month to tamper down expectations. He's tried to prepare us. He did it again today for a long, hard kind of march back to where we want to be. But he won't tamper down everything and there will be disappointments.

Ted Simons:
As far as a honeymoon period does it get a little longer than usual or because of the volatile nature of society right now, as we kind of alluded to earlier, do things have to get done pretty quickly?

Patrick Kenney:
Presidential popularity starts to decline the day after the inaugural address and we've got that data back to Truman. That's a pattern that just stays there. Now some presidents stay higher than others, John Kennedy stayed higher longer. Eisenhower stayed longer after that period. So you might see him stay a little longer. He's awfully good at communicating to the people and that's who answers the questions on those gallop polls. As soon as he starts to tackle some of these kinds of, what are we going to do with health care? What are we going to do with social security? What are we going to do with the energy? There will be a lot of decisions. There will be a lot of people left out of those decisions and you will see an erosion of some of that popularity.

Ted Simons:
Alright, very good. Thank you so much for joining me. We certainly appreciate it.

Patrick Kenney:
You're welcome.

Ted Simons:
The inauguration was not only a moment in history, it was a learning experience. Producer David Majure spent the morning with some middle school students at Ahwatukee.

Mrs. Bucks:
Tickets are being sold for how much? Anybody hear? I heard $10,000.

David Majure:
They didn't have tickets to Barack Obama's inauguration as America's 44th president. But students at Altadena middle school in Ahwatukee had a pretty good view of history being made.

Woman on television:
Every four years, to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader.

Mrs. Bucks:
Can you all try to imagine what it must feel like to be there now.

David Majure:
Earlier Mrs. Buck's eighth graders put the occasion into context by researching inaugurations of the past.

Student:
I am working on the power point for our group because we're talking about Lincoln and his inauguration. He had to deal with a lot of stuff when he became president like states seceding, and his country basically falling apart.

Mrs. Bucks:
So who are you two researching?

Student:
We are researching William Henry Harrison.

Student:
J.F.K. Yeah.

Student:
Writing about his inauguration. He was the first catholic president. That was very important. He was very anti-communism. Civil rights was a big issue back then, too.

Student:
Oh, and on the inauguration day it was almost canceled because of heavy snowfall.

Student:
We are on Franklin D. Roosevelt and we are learning about his inauguration.

Mrs. Bucks:
What have you heard about the peaceful transfer of power that we have here in our country? What's unique about it?

Student:
Other countries when they change power there will usually be followed by a riot or war. And our country doesn't have that because I think that our no matter who is elected, republican or democrat, our country believes that they will be the right choice because they were elected by the people.

Man on television:
We rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time --

Mrs. Bucks:
We're about to have our brand-new president be sworn in. Make sure that you are paying close attention.

President Obama:
I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear.

Student:
Well it's really significant because it's first black president in America.

President Obama:
Grateful for the trust you have bestowed; mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

Mrs. Bucks:
What did you think; Powerful words?

Student:
I thought that Obama is going to make a good president; he has good plans. Like when the economy gets out of the rut.

Student:
I was for Mc Cain because my family is republican, but after listening to his speeches, I realized that he is going to steer our economy into a better situation.

Student:
Something that I like about Barack Obama is that he is not only African-American but he's like multicultural and well traveled, and I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Student:
It's just like overwhelming kind of that our new president is not any different from anyone else. But on the outside he looks different.

Ted Simons:
Coming up on Horizon, Arizona legislative leaders recommend cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the university system. The state's three university presidents talk about those proposed cuts Wednesday at 7:00 on horizon. That is it for now. I am Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight; members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

What's on?
  About KAET Contact Support Legal Follow Us  
  About Eight
Mission/Impact
History
Site Map
Pressroom
Contact Us
Sign up for e-news
Pledge to Eight
Donate Monthly
Volunteer
Other ways to support
FCC Public Files
Privacy Policy
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Google+
Pinterest
 

Need help accessing? Contact disabilityaccess@asu.edu

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University    Copyright Arizona Board of Regents