January 21, 2013
What a day! The jubilant culmination of American politics, with enough sugary-sweet patriotic symbolism and carnival theatrics throughout the long day to give even a sober person a bad hangover. The second inauguration of President Barack Obama was blessed with nice weather, a bit chilly but with crystal clear blue skies. Spirits were high among those present, not as many as there were four years ago.
Outside the Beltway in the "real" America, meanwhile, millions of conservatives groaned in collective agony. How could this travesty have happened? I don't consider myself as part of the bitter anti-Obama crowd, and even though I'm not thrilled with the direction the U.S. government is heading, I'm at least happy for Obama's supporters. Campaign 2012 was a fair fight, and the Republicans had a chance to make a case to the American people, but they failed.
The President's second inaugural address featured a heavy dose of realism, blended with equal parts of appeals to bipartisan cooperation and determination to carry out the progressive agenda favored by his liberal "base." With the Republicans in control of the House, he knows he is not going to achieve anything as significant as his health care law passed, at least not for the next two years. So instead of heralding a glorious new era of "change," as he did in 2008-2009, this time he emphasized consolidating what had been done in his first administration.
For me, the most intriguing passage from the speech was the following paragraph (from whitehouse.gov):
That is our generation's task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
The basic question is whether the exercise of government power, and presidential power in particular, is subject to rigid constraints by the Constitution, or whether contemporary interpretations allow for more "flexibility" than the Founding Fathers might have envisioned. Obama is squarely in the latter camp, of course, but he at least seems aware of the need to acknowledge there is another point of view.
Overall, it was definitely more restrained and pragmatic speech than his first inaugural address, in which he pledged to "begin again the work of remaking America." (See whitehouse.gov.) That seemed to echo the ambitious goal "to transform a nation" from his February 2007 speech in which he announced his candidacy for president. (See March 1, 2009.) As he candidly told Russian then-president Dmitri Medvedev at a summit meeting last spring, Obama expects to have more "flexibility" in his second term. Frankly, that gives conservatives like me the heebee-jeebees. Anyway, I'll have a more thorough review of the president's speech in a future blog post or newspaper column.
I was amused by Richard Viguerie's take on the second Obama inauguration. He puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the "Republican establishment"; see conservativehq.com. He feigns a complete lack of awareness that the right-wing populist Tea Party movement, which he champions, has its genesis in the political strategy and policy agenda of the Bush (Jr.) administration, which he (rightly) berates for its big-spending ways. Which leads me to my next point:
Until today, I hadn't had a blog post about politics since November 12, mainly a reflection of my utter disgust at the Republican leaders' failure to draw any useful lessons from President Obama's reelection. For the past several years, I have operated under the assumption that reason and sanity would eventually prevail in the Grand Old Party. For the sake of party unity, it seemed only prudent to exercise restraint in the way I characterized certain leaders and decisions with which I took issue; "If you can't say something positive, don't say anything."
Real-world events proved contrary to my expectations, however. The way the fiscal cliff negotiations backfired badly for the GOP, as House Speaker John Boehner was undercut by his own party members, and the way some Republicans have reacted to the mass shooting in Connecticut suggest that the deranged fever of the right-wing "Base" is just as strong as ever. It seems that the party remains determined to persist in the suicidal trajectory which it has pursued for the last several years. So, I find myself in need of reorienting my political identity, and expressing my thoughts in more direct, less tactful ways.