THE formal transfer of power to a new President of the U.S. is always a solemn moment. It is also a moment of promise, a time for hopeful pledges rather than penitential litanies. Columbia Historian Henry Graff calls the act of transition "America's stirring rite of political renewal." The mood of Inauguration 1969 is neither the bleak desperation of 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt succeeded Herbert Hoover amid the Great Depression, nor the partisan exhilaration of 1965, after Lyndon Johnson had been elected in his own right. The U.S. is in grave crisis, yet the President-elect has revealed little of his design;...

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