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Inauguration Shouldn't be a Coronation

A speech on the steps of the Capitol should be enough. Tell us what you are going to do and then drive -- or walk -- down Pennsylvania Avenue and start doing it.
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Americans fought an eight-year war of liberation against not only the most powerful monarchy on earth in 1775 but against monarchy itself. Yet once the dust settled and it was time to write a Constitution compromises left America a legacy of monarchy now gone from most of Europe.

Among the kingly powers still residing in the American presidency are the pardon, the veto and the title Commander-in-Chief. Add to that list the Inaugural celebration we are about to witness in Washington, DC. None of this has any place in a democracy.

Unlike in Europe, whose time for Empire has come and gone, the United States combines the practical power of head of government with the symbolic power of head of state. It is a frightening combination.

But that is the point: to instill fear. It is part of how rulers rule, how leaders manage populations. A mere mortal, albeit one with mortal power over other people's lives, is transformed through ritual and ceremony into a super-human figure who is not to be messed with.

As the chief executive he holds in his hands the state's monopoly on violence -- both domestic and foreign. That fear of potential violence buffers an American president from criticism. It takes courage for someone -- a cabinet official, a journalist or an ordinary citizen -- to stand up to a president while he's in power. Only now we are hearing from a judge who says Bush was a torturer.

The threat of violence is hidden. It's always there in the background if the foreground strategy fails: the obedience-inducing symbols of power. It all kicks off with the Inauguration.

Any American president's legitimacy -- including Obama's -- should ideally rest on his performance alone, not his branding in ceremonies reminiscent of enthronements.

In 1727 Georg Frederic Handel wrote four anthems for the coronation of King George II. Now we've got Bruce Springsteen.

In a parliamentary system real power resides with the prime minister who is not glorified in ceremony, title and song. He is also more accountable to the people. A major screw up and a vote of no confidence can bring a new government at any time.

If the people still need some parental-like figure ruling over them better that person be stripped of political power -- like the kings, queens and ceremonial presidents of Europe today -- than the man and or woman who can still command armies in the field.

In a representative democracy we want our leaders to be as much like us a possible -- not in the Sarah Palin sense of dumb as the average common denominator. No, smarter than the norm but remaining among us -- not set apart.

A speech on the steps of the Capitol should be enough. Tell us what you are going to do and then drive -- or walk -- down Pennsylvania Avenue and start doing it.

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