Protect and Defend
"I, Kerry Francis Kilcannon . . ."
In a high clear voice, carrying a trace of Irish lilt, Kerry Kilcannon repeated the historic phrases intoned by Chief Justice Roger Bannon.
The two men faced each other on the patio which fronted the west side of the Capitol, surrounded by guests and officeholders and watched from greater distances by thousands of well-wishers who covered the grounds below. The noonday was bright but chill; a heavy snow had fallen overnight, and the mist of Bannon's words hung in the air between them. Though Kerry wore the traditional morning coat, those around him huddled with their collars up and hands shoved in the pockets of much heavier coats. Protected only by his traditional robe, the Chief Justice looked bloodless, an old man who shivered in the cold, heightening the contrast with Kerry Kilcannon.
Kerry was forty-two, and his slight frame and thatch of chestnut hair made him seem startlingly young for the office. At his moment of accession, both humbling and exalting, the three people he loved most stood near: his mother, Mary Kilcannon; Clayton Slade, his closest friend and the new Chief of Staff; and his fiancée, Lara Costello, a broadcast journalist who enhanced the aura of youth and vitality which was central to Kerry's appeal. "When Kerry Kilcannon enters a room," a commentator had observed, "he's in Technicolor, and everyone else is in black-and-white."
Despite that, Kerry knew with regret, he came to the presidency a divisive figure. His election last November had been bitter and close: only at dawn of the next morning, when the final count in California went narrowly to Kerry, had Americans known who would lead them. Few, Kerry supposed, were more appalled than Chief Justice Roger Bannon.
It was an open secret that, at seventy-nine, Bannon had long wished to retire: for eight years under Kerry's Democratic predecessor, the Chief Justice had presided grimly over a sharply divided Court, growing so pale and desiccated that he came, in Kerry's mind, to resemble parchment. Seemingly all that had sustained him was the wish for a Republican president to appoint his successor, helping maintain Bannon's conservative legacy; in a rare moment of incaution, conveyed to the press, Bannon had opined at a dinner party that Kerry was "ruthless, intemperate, and qualified only to ruin the Court." The inaugural's crowning irony was that the Chief Justice was here, obliged by office to effect the transfer of power to another Democrat, this one the embodiment of all Bannon loathed. Whoever imagined that ours was a government of laws and not men, Kerry thought wryly, could not see Bannon's face. Yet he was here to do his job, trembling with cold, and Kerry could not help but feel sympathy and a measure of admiration.
". . . do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States . . ."
The outgoing president watched from Kerry's left, gray and worn, a cautionary portrait of the burdens awaiting him. Yet there were at least two others nearby who already hoped to take Kerry's place: his old antagonist from the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Macdonald Gage; and Senator Chad Palmer, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a second Republican whose rivalry with Gage and friendship with Kerry did not disguise his cheerful conviction that he would be a far better president than either. Kerry wondered which man the Chief Justice was hoping would depose him four years hence, and whether Bannon would live that long.
". . . and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Firmly, as though to override the old man's hesitance, Kerry completed the oath.
At that wondrous instant, the summit of two years of striving and resolve, Kerry Francis Kilcannon became President of the United States.
Excerpted from Protect and Defend by Richard North Patterson Copyright© 2000 by Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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