Conservatives like me have hope after Biden Speech (Mary Kate Cary)

News Journal column: Mary Kate Cary (University of Virginia & Miller Center of Presidential Studies) compared Biden’s speech to Thomas Jefferson’s speech in 1801, which she called “one of the greatest inaugural speeches in American history."

Coming after a particularly bitter election that had been decided by the House of Representatives, resulting in the first peaceful transition of power from one party to the other in US history, all eyes were on Jefferson “as he extended an olive branch” to his defeated, and already departed opponent (John Adams). “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Similarly, Biden avoided “an unduly partisan approach.”

He used the words “unity,” “uniting,” “united” and “union” a total of 15 times in 20 minutes, and referenced the importance of our democracy more than ten times. He gave credit to the heroes who ensured that the attack on the Capitol did not stop our democracy: “It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

Biden quoted Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Republican Party, as promising that his “whole soul” was in the cause of bringing America together and uniting the nation under shared values. He seemed aware of people who voted a split ticket because they “wanted a return to normalcy at the top of the ticket” but were “concerned about the growing size and scope of government everywhere else.”

Especially welcome – “at least for those of us in the loyal opposition” – he pledged to be a president for all Americans, and fight just as hard for those who did not support him as for those who did. “He’d be smart to keep that promise.”

While presidential words certainly matter, and as a former White House speechwriter in the Bush 41 White House I should know, so do presidential actions. During Biden’s first 100 days, “millions of conservatives . . . will be keeping a close eye – on his first executive orders, his legislative agenda, his staff appointments” – to see if he’s holding up his end of the proposed bargain.

When President Bush departed the Oval Office he left a note for his successor, President Clinton. It read in part: “Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

“Similarly, Joe Biden’s success is now our country’s success. All of us should be rooting hard for him.”

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