August is supposed to be a slow and sleepy time for the White House, but this year isn't turning out quite that way. In fact, the idea that nothing much ever happens in government during the dog days of August is really a myth.
Beyond the decisions that President Obama is making on domestic spying, the crises in Egypt and Syria, and how to bypass a recalcitrant Congress on economic and other issues, one particular event on Obama's schedule will make this month an important one all by itself.
He is set to give an address on Aug. 28 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech to 250,000 protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. It was one of the iconic moments in American history and still serves as an inspiration for the civil rights movement. And it will be difficult for Obama to match King's eloquence. But at a minimum, the president is likely to place the issues of civil rights and race back at the top of the nation's agenda.
There have been a number of August moments over the years that shook the capital and had a lasting impact. Here's a primer on nine of them:
– President Obama's August 2010 announcement that he was ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, a big step toward terminating America's participation in an unpopular conflict.
– Hurricane Katrina, a catastrophe for the Gulf Coast that the administration of President George W. Bush handled poorly in August 2005. Bush never recovered his reputation as an effective manager.
– The admission by President Bill Clinton in August 1998 that he had a relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that was "not appropriate." This scandal would plague Clinton to the end of his presidency.
– The attempted August 1991 coup against then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. This called for deft crisis management from President George H. W. Bush, which he provided.
– The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, triggering President George H.W. Bush's bold declaration that the invasion would not stand. This set the United States on a course toward the Persian Gulf War.
– President Richard Nixon's resignation in August 1974 amid the Watergate scandal as Congress moved to impeach him.
– The succession of Vice President Gerald Ford to the Oval Office after Nixon's departure in August 1974, ending a constitutional crisis.
– The March on Washington in 1963 – the occasion for Martin Luther King's famous speech. President John F. Kennedy initially had doubts about whether the event would be peaceful and worried that it might be too provocative. But when the event came off successfully, Kennedy met with the movement's leaders at the White House in a show of solidarity.
– And of course there was the biggest crisis ever to hit Washington: the British invasion during the War of 1812. In fact, the British burned down much of the city, including the White House, in August of 1814.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.