It is no cliché to note that while all presidents ardently desire second terms, they are more often a curse than a blessing. Most of those who have been elected twice in the last century have seen their presidencies run aground for various reasons. George W. Bush had Katrina and the Iraq quagmire. Bill Clinton had Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. Ronald Reagan had Iran Contra. Richard Nixon had Watergate. Lyndon Johnson had Vietnam. Amid the pomp and hope of new beginnings of a second inauguration day always lurk the threat of unseen or dimly understood disasters that sink presidents who leave the presidency as wounded lame ducks worn down by the cares of office. That’s the challenge facing Barack Obama after being sworn in today for another four years in office.
The president’s opponents can comfort themselves after their shocking defeat last November with the thought that he will inevitably be capsized by the usual second term nightmares that have brought down his predecessors. But that is an assumption, not an argument. Throughout his career Obama has often defied the laws of political gravity and it is by no means impossible that he should do so again. If the economy actually begins a recovery or he is able to pass some kind of immigration reform or a gun control package and begin the process of reforming entitlements while avoiding foreign disasters, Obama could be that rare species of president who does not spend his second term explaining failures or scandals. That’s a tall order, but amid clear signs of future disaster, the president does have some factors that would argue in favor of his success.
Jim Mattis, current commander of Central Command, is one of the most revered generals in the recent history of the Marine Corps. He has been nicknamed affectionately “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” and he has acquired a considerable and well-earned reputation for battlefield excellence and general strategic acumen over the course of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq and now at Centcom. The San Diego Union Tribune has a great profile of him.
Yet, although only 62 years old, his military career may well end in the next few months, because he is slated to leave Centcom. Veteran military correspondent Tom Ricks reports here and here that Mattis may be getting pushed out a bit early because the White House does not appreciate his blunt advice and thinks he is too hawkish on Iran.
Today is the seventh time that Inauguration Day has fallen on a Sunday. As in the past, the president will be sworn in a small ceremony in the White House and the public inauguration, inaugural address, and parade will be held tomorrow.
There was one exception, Sunday March 4, 1849, when president-elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath on a Sunday. The vice president-elect, Millard Fillmore, also declined to take his oath. Since James K. Polk’s term of office as president and George M. Dallas’s term as vice president certainly ended at noon that day, who was president?
There has long been a claim that it was David Rice Atchison, Senator from Missouri, a Democrat, who was president pro tempore of the Senate, and thus, under the succession law then in place, next in line. Atchison’s tombstone describes him as having been “President of the United States for one day,” and the Atchison County Historical Museum in Atchison, Kansas, which was named for him, contains what it describes, more or less tongue-in-cheek, as the country’s smallest presidential library.