A Late Take on Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address
Real life prevented this post from being written earlier (please don’t ask for details; you would find them tedious), but the most striking thing about the president’s inaugural address was its marked ideological tone, and its combative nature. So much for the politician who promised to heal our politics.
This president has proven that he is no different a political gladiator from the others who have come along—others whom he has accused in the past of cheapening our politics. There was some pretty phrasing in the inaugural address, but no “ask not” moments. The most notable item to me was the embrace of marriage equality for same sex couples; as one who supports same sex marriage and the end of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” I am glad that the president finally got around to endorsing positions long held by the likes of Dick Cheney and John Bolton on the issue of marriage. Indeed, let us not forget that the president believes that marriage equality for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals is so incredibly important that he waited until last year—when he had to shore up his liberal base in advance of re-election—before endorsing and embracing the idea.
I can understand why liberals loved the speech—it was like catnip to them on multiple levels. But that doesn’t detract from David Ignatius’s criticisms:
… the speech lacked the unifying or transcendent ideas that could help Obama do much more than continue the Washington version of trench warfare during his second term. If you were hoping that the president would set the stage for a grand bargain to restructure America’s entitlement programs and fiscal health for the 21st century, you wouldn’t have found much encouragement.
Missing from the speech was the first inaugural address’s perhaps naïve dream of uniting America. This second speech seemed to accept that America is divided and, as Obama put it, “progress does not compel us to settle centuries long debates about the role of government for all time.” He called out those who would “treat name-calling as reasoned debate”—I wonder who that could mean?—but Obama’s plan seemed to be to roll the negativists, rather than try any longer to reason with them.
The area where the speech was spongiest was foreign policy. Obama reiterated his campaign theme that “a decade of war is now ending” and that maintaining peace does not require “perpetual war.” That certainly fits the mood of the war-weary nation that re-elected him. And there was a ritual assertion of internationalism, in the insistence that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe.”
This is good rhetoric, but empty policy guidance. A listener wouldn’t have had a clue that a war is going on in Syria that has claimed over 60,000 lives, and that there is no discernible American policy to deal with it. A listener wouldn’t have known that a group called Al Qaeda still exists, let alone that it has left savage calling cards this past week in Algeria, just as it did in September in Libya.
(Via InstaPundit.) Incidentally, does anyone else find it hilarious that the same president whose re-election campaign was responsible for … well … this, has the temerity to lecture the rest of us about how name-calling does not constitute reasoned debate?
We Americans, in the president’s telling, have continually “discovered” the need for ever-larger government while conveniently retaining all of our skepticism of central authority and celebration of private initiative. And a lucky thing it is that we keep enlarging government, since the alternative is apparently the end of all large-scale enterprise: “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
We cannot “treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said, in a speech made possible by a campaign that described his opponent as seeking to ship jobs overseas, oppress rape victims and spread cancer.
Yes he can … overcome strawmen.
But he chooses not to. Meanwhile, Robert Tracinski just finds the president’s rhetoric to be yawnworthy:
I was not going to comment on President Obama’s second inaugural address until I saw a headline quoting a line from the speech: “We are made for this moment.”
Really? “This moment”—again?
“This moment” was in Obama’s big speech in Berlin as a candidate, when he declared to the “people of the world” that “this is our moment. This is our time.” For what, was never clear and still isn’t. “This moment” was also in his acceptance speech in 2008 and it was probably in his last inaugural. Let’s just say that we’ve heard it before.
I said recently that politics is going to be boring for a little while, but in his second term, Barack Obama is going to be really super boring.
The rest of his speech suffered from the same insufferable sameness. Paths will be long and difficult, “some” may be recalcitrant naysayers, but it will be our generation’s task to carry on, etc., etc., etc.
Within all of this, there was a central idea, but it was—no surprise—one we’ve heard before.
“No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
This is the president’s favorite false alternative: either we do things “alone,” or government does them for us “collectively.” What this world view leaves out, of course, is the voluntary cooperation of private individuals, particularly their cooperation in the free market. Which is to say that he excludes from his world view the actual majority of human activity.
I disagree with Tracinski. I don’t find the president to be boring. Quite the contrary; he is proving to be rather consequential. It’s just that I am worried about those consequences he is bringing about and I think that Tracinski does a better job of validating those concerns than he does in validating the idea that the president is “boring.” I doubt I am alone in stating that I would take “boring” over “wrong” any day of the week any twice on Sundays.