Had he been alive then, James Buchanan would have been an excellent addition in the 90s cinematic masterpiece “Clueless”. Channeling Cher Horowitz in his 1857 inaugural address in terms of sheer ineptitude and real-world disconnectedness, Buchanan spent a large portion of his uninspired oratory discussing slavery as one would their chronic (and unsuccessful) battles against irritable bowel syndrome. Described as an “agitation” that hadn’t had any intermission for more than 20 years, Buchanan spent most of his 2,834-word address musing about how he wished Kansas would just stop bleeding so that Americans could focus on other matters “of more pressing and practical importance.” Like, you know, not slavery. Suffice it to say, Supreme Court Justice Taney delivered his abominable majority opinion on Dred Scott V. Stanford in the following days, and four years later the Civil War would begin its bloody trajectory on American soil. Sound like presidential leadership? “As if!”
William Henry Harrison
A blistering cold. An old man lacking a coat, a hat and charisma. An audience disengaged and disenchanted. No, this isn’t the set of a Jay Leno Christmas special, this is William Henry Harrison’s 1847 inaugural address. Rambling about ancient Rome and indulging in overly erudite platitudes, Harrison’s verbal purge took with it two hours, 8,000 words and ultimately his life. The presidential equivalent of the nutty, babbling uncle that everyone wishes would take his meds and shut up developed a fatal case of pneumonia following the speech and thus became the first president to die in office. Note to future speech writers: verbosity kills.
George W. Bush
Because he never should have had one.
As intellectually intriguing as Mitt Romney’s iTunes library, the 29th President of the United States used his inaugural address to engage in bromides fit only for today’s hollow Republican platform. Where Harding lacked conviction, he gained in his excellent use of redundant tropes and recitations as rousing as the back of a Campbell’s soup can. Cases in point:
“I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens, for sound commercial practices, for adequate credit facilities, for sympathetic concern for all agricultural problems, for the omission of unnecessary interference of Government with business, for an end to Government’s experiment in business, and for more efficient business in Government administration.”
“But America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers.”
Suffice it to say the biggest impression he left on the White House was when he died in it.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant greeted his 1869 inauguration with as much enthusiasm as a seven-year-old staring down at a plate of days-old cafeteria meatloaf, and with good reason. Saying that the “presidency had come to [him] unsought,” Grant followed in the footsteps of the messianic Abraham Lincoln and the simpering Southern sympathizer Andrew Johnson. The nation was still one very much divided and in desperate need of reminding that a path to peace must be forged for the sake of renewed strength, shared growth and national stability. So in a particularly small-minded fashion, Grant failed to address the above issues and opted instead for a hackneyed talk about debt. Funny how little things change.