Obama’s Lost Opportunity.
I’ve been critical of conservative Republicans on this blog for their rigid approach to taxation, the deficit, and related issues. It’s time to turn the spotlight squarely on President Obama, whose second inaugural address yesterday was anything but conciliatory to his opponents. As the New York Times agreed in its online headlines, the speech was that of a president who is “unapologetic” and “less willing to start negotiations by moving to the center.” And as James Fallows wrote for the Atlantic, “This was the most sustainedly “progressive” statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage.”
In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank, no conservative, gets it about right:
President Obama began his second inaugural address with a reminder that this ceremony, like the 56 inaugurations before it in U.S. history, was a unifying symbol.
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution … We affirm the promise of our democracy.”
Thus ended the warm-courage-of-national-unity portion of the proceedings.
What followed was less an inaugural address for the ages than a leftover campaign speech combined with an early draft of the State of the Union address.
Noting the liberal make-up of the crowd, as well as the noteworthy absence of the two living former Republican presidents, Milbank adds,
Obama’s main event was full of crowd-pleasing lines about equal pay, same-sex marriage, poll access, immigration, gun control and health care. Although it tied together the various elements of his agenda, it failed to rise to the moment….
However, the emphasis was unusually political for an inaugural address…. Obama teased the crowd with a theme of unity: “Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.” But his “we the people” theme turned out to be more of a campaign retread.
Obama’s rhetoric was particularly wishful when he proclaimed the end of a decade of war (faltering Afghan reconstruction, Iraq in serious danger of civil war, Syria in brutal civil war, drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, chaos in Libya, violent conflict with terrorists in Algeria, new war in Mali, imminent confrontation with Iran – hello Mr. President?). It was similarly lofty when he appealed to a consensus on global warming and suggested it dictates some sort of obvious “action” (I’m not sure what that obvious action would be …). It pandered to the same old deceptions we Americans regularly tell ourselves when it affirmed the commitment that “Our journey is not complete until all our children … know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
But perhaps the lowest point for many conservatives was the president’s rhetoric on gay marriage (unprecedented at the inaugural stage), which he smugly identified as part of the civil rights journey begun by those pioneers at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall, and embodied by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.
I may be mistaken, but I am not aware of any laws in this country that treat gay men and women any differently than “anyone else under the law.” If regulations or queries refer to “sexual orientation” it is usually to protect or assist those who identify themselves as gay rather than anything else. But all that aside, is it really true that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well”? I get the power of the rhetoric, but what in the world does it mean? Is the love that my wife and I commit to one another equal to the love between my son and my daughter, between my wife and her girlfriends, or between me and the brothers and sisters at my church? I don’t think so. Ignoring the vital social implications of matters of sexuality and marriage by smothering it with the rhetoric of love and affirmation does no one – including our friends and fellow citizens who are gay – any favors.
I understand that the president is a liberal and a Democrat. That’s fine. We need such people, and we want them to advance the policies they believe to be best for our country. But it’s too bad President Obama didn’t take this opportunity to unify the country, to alleviate the fear and bitterness of conservatives, and to actually point us to a way forward. Opportunity lost.