There were, I think, three main elements to President Obama’s second inaugural address (other than its brevity at just 19 minutes, which was the only truly surprising thing about the speech):
First, there was his identification of what — or who — is at the root of our problems:
In case you didn’t catch his drift, I’ve supplied some emphasis. There are just a “few” people who are keeping the rest of us from … what exactly? Does anyone actually believe only a “few” Americans (even granting the president poetic license to mean a “few” as a relative share of a nation of more than 315 million people) are happy? Or enjoy freedom? Or experience financial success?
To understand his exaggeration of the cause of our problems requires the second element of the speech, which is the gross mischaracterization of the positions of the president’s political opponents. Here are two examples:
Who, exactly, claims that a “single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need,” or that a “single person can … build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores”? Who has claimed that such a solitary trainer of teachers or builder of roads exists?
And who, exactly, believes our nation “must choose between” programs for retirees and, say, education? The GOP presidential nominee who wanted to restore the Medicare spending cut to fund (on paper) Obamacare? The Republican leaders whose proposals for Social Security involve slowing the growth of benefits?
Who are these unreasonable people who hold these radical beliefs?
Figments of Obama’s imagination — that’s who. This is the kind of willful misrepresentation of opposing viewpoints that is the stock-in-trade of Obama’s rhetoric.
Hand-in-hand with this misrepresentation is the projection onto others of the kind of behavior Obama himself regularly displays: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle” — kind of like saying you won’t extend tax cuts for everyone else unless taxes go up on the “few” — “… or treat name-calling as reasoned debate” — kind of like calling the other side “hostage takers.”
Finally, there were the policy prescriptions to which Obama alluded. This was the element of the speech that made it sound akin to a State of the Union address. There were allusions to, though no detailed proposals for, reforming government, the tax code and schools; addressing climate change via sustainable energy sources; support for gay marriage; attempting comprehensive immigration reform; pursuing the kind of gun control measures he proposed just last week; and, most of the blue, shortening the time it takes to vote on Election Day.
Take these elements together, and it was a speech being received (with some degree of shock) by liberals as a thoroughly liberal speech. And (with far less shock) by conservatives as the same.
Why it took liberals aback, I don’t know. The notion of Obama the Centrist has appealed only to those who believe he really should govern as a socialist. But it does not portend any more of a spirit of cooperation during the next two years than we’ve seen during the past four.
– By Kyle Wingfield