I didn’t have time until yesterday to read through the President’s faux inauguration speech. While it was, as expected, stirringly delivered, and had some nice turns of phrase like this:
For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
and seemed to excite his liberal base, I came away mostly unimpressed. It name-checked gay rights while ignoring that the biggest impediment to them is and has long been … government. It talked of individual liberty while pushing an agenda that chokes liberty off in favor of collectivism (the word cloud showed the most prominent words were “people” and “must”; that’s not a fluke). There was talk of reform and getting rid of “outworn programs” from someone who has opposed fundamental changes to the way government does business. And when it came to the biggest problems we’re facing: the economy and long-term debt, it addressed them with such nonsense as this:
We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other—through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security—these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
But the entire point of our budget crisis is that we do have to make tough choices; that we can’t have everything on the liberal wish list.
Really, it seemed to me the best aspect of the speech was that it was short.
But something bugged me about it and I finally realized what it was. Suderman:
(Update: Since I drafted this post, Suderman has withdrawn the above since he mistakenly quotes the first inaugural speech. I still think the broad strokes — that progressivism is triumphant — applies to the new speech so I’ve left it in. For a more germaine criticism, you can check out Matt Welch.)
I wouldn’t call the speech a case for progressivism so much as an attempt to assert its victory.
It’s true that Obama offered a vision of a bigger, bolder state. But what he didn’t offer was much of an argument for how to get there, or make it affordable and sustainable. There were no outright policy proposals in the speech, but there was an awful lot of spending squeezed between its lines. Yet except for a line about using technology to lower the cost of health care [which isn't working, incidentally -- Hal], Obama’s speech offered no hints about he’d pay for his expanded state; the words debt, deficit, and budget were notably absent from the text.
Nor did Obama make much attempt to win over his political opponents—to convince them that the goals he laid out were worthy. Rather, the speech instead suggested that the argument was over, that he had won, and that the opposition should simply fall in line. “There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” he said. “Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.”
That’s not an argument for liberalism so much as a statement that Obama believes the argument is over.
We’ve often complained that, to the Left, the definition of “partisan rancor” and “obstructionism” is any opposition to the liberal agenda. And Obama seems to be laying out the case for that once again, claiming that we don’t really need to debate anymore. All we need to figure out is how we’re going to tax enough for all this.
Really, it seemed more like the first speech of Campaign 2014 than anything else: an opening salvo claiming that the only thing standing between America and its Liberal Utopia destiny is those damned Republicans.