Sadder But Wiser
One nice thing about having a blog this long is that this is the second time I’ve “covered,” as it were, a Presidential inauguration for CHNN, and thus could look back at what I might have written about the first one for guidance. Turns out that although I was, back then, then putting out posts at a comparatively feverish pace, I didn’t bother to write about President Obama’s first inaugural address until a few days later, when the righty discontents had all weighed in.
This time, as a card-carrying Firebagger discontent myself, I feel moved to weigh in before they do. With a a couple of fairly significant caveats I’ll get to below, I thought it was a great speech, and as usual one befitting a President who hopes (or pretends to hope) that he will be a better President in the future than he has been in the past. As you can imagine, I was delighted that, barely a minute in, he roundly dismissed the absurdly revisionist history embraced by his Confederate-dominated opponents with skill and aplomb:
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Take that, “Constitutional” conservatives, who fetishize the Declaration of Independence as a near-biblical document designed to institute a theocratic police state that exists only to protect the wealthy and restrict the freedom of everyone else. Warming to his task, the President continues, with a reference to God that I ordinarily wouldn’t like, but since it makes such a nice knife-twister for the bible-bangers, I’m all for it:
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
After an annoying passage about “outworn programs” and “reforming our schools” as potential Serious solutions to problems completely of Republican making, Obama goes a welcome step further, undoubtedly to the great chagrin of Fox News aficionados:
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.
Ouch, said a certain plutocrat with a car elevator and a beak-nosed gym rat with an unseemly affection for Ayn Rand’s womanly charms. The part that was most meaningful to me, as it must have been for many others, came a little later:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
And, as though specifically linking the struggles of women, African-Americans, and LGBT people weren’t good enough, the President almost made an Obamabot out of me when he went further, drawing the concerns of immigrants, women, the poor, and for the first time in an inaugural address, gay Americans, into the national task at hand. He finished with a fine (and again strategically brilliant) reminder that he is, like all of us, just a citizen, and his oath differs little than that taken by many others. If Obama really fancies himself a “king,” as the right is wont to say, he pointedly doesn’t talk like one. Well, at least most of the time.
One harsh note that spoiled my reverie, but I’m sure won’t escape the notice of his other liberal critics, was the following passage:
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.
The first part could have been written by Frank Luntz; the second, by Groucho Marx. Using the “strength of arms” does a lot of things, but “upholding our values” is not among them. And let’s just say that the “rule of law” means different things to, say, Jamie Dimon, than it does to, say, Bradley Manning. Had that been the only thing that reminded me that we haven’t really come nearly so far as other parts of the speech optimistically intimated, there was this New Democrat piece of hogwash, which rhetorically opened the door to all sorts of post-partisan deviltry, and we know how that has turned out in the past:
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.
Sounds like “tweaks” to the very programs he so fervently defended elsewhere are still on the proverbial table, perhaps lurking behind the gravy boat. Worse, he thinks that the answers to what ails us might lie at least in part in the union-busting, tax-finagling, and of course harder toil from the lower orders that Republicans so relentlessly champion.
The good parts were enough for such perennial skeptics as Charlie Pierce and Ed Kilgore, who both waxed unusually rhapsodic in the afterglow of the President’s admittedly excellent speech; the bad parts, though, weren’t in there by accident. Here at CHNN, we’re guardedly optimistic.
Emphasis on the guardedly.