Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

A Tale of Two Inaugurals: Comparing Clinton to Obama

President Bill Clinton Delivers his second Inaugural Address on January 20, 1997.

Second inaugurals tend to meet with less fanfare than their predecessors. However, to say that they lack the same significance oversells the point. Rather, they present a unique opportunity. For example, some Presidents may use the opportunity to signal a political pivot while others may choose to double down on their first term.

Bill Clinton’s second inaugural address, delivered January 20, 1997, is an excellent example of the former. For long stretches it simply reinvigorated the base. However, for those with an acute ear, there are telling signs of a more conciliatory term to come.  

The move to the center that defined his second term was exemplified by decrying the omniscience of the state:

As times change, so government must change. We need a new government for a new century – humble enough not to try to solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our problems for ourselves; a government that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more with less.

In clearly suggesting that the idea of shrinking government was up for debate, Clinton opened the window for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.