BY RICH LOWRY
There should have been something for everyone in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. For liberals, a full-throated call to arms. For conservatives, vindication.
Obama settled the debate over his place on the political spectrum and his political designs. He’s an unabashed liberal determined to shift our politics and our country irrevocably to the left. In other words, Obama’s foes — if you put aside the birthers and other lunatics — always had him pegged correctly.
If you listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, you got a better appreciation of Obama’s core than by reading the president’s friends and sophisticated interpreters, for whom he was either a moderate or a puzzle.
Rush, et al., doubted that Obama could have emerged from the left-wing milieu of Hyde Park, become in short order the most liberal U.S. senator, run to Hillary Clinton’s left in the 2008 primaries and yet have been a misunderstood centrist all along.
They got him right, even as he duped the Obamacons, played the press and fooled his sympathizers. David Brooks, the brilliant and winsome New York Times columnist, has been promising the arrival of the true, pragmatic Obama for years now. In his column praising the second inaugural address, he appeared finally to give up. “Now he is liberated,” Brooks wrote. “Now he has picked a team and put his liberalism on full display.”
Paul Krugman, also of The New York Times, wrote blog posts during the past few years titled “Obama the Moderate” and “Obama the Moderate Conservative.” For Krugman, Obama could never have proved himself a liberal short of an order to liquidate the kulaks. Even he, though, wrote of the second inaugural: “Obama has never been this clear before about what he stands for.”
After years of portraying Obama as cautiously picking through warmed-over Republican ideas, an Eisenhower Republican miscast by his opponents as a liberal ideologue, Obama’s allies exulted in his open embrace of liberal ideology.
The media, as a general matter, loved the speech. They praised Obama’s post-partisanship, and now they praise his post-post-partisanship. They aren’t strictly contradicting themselves because the content is the same. In his old post-partisan phase, the president passed a nearly $1 trillion stimulus, a universal health-care bill sought by the left for decades and a massive regulation of Wall Street. All prior to his “liberation.”
One theory is that Obama has been forced into his unabashed liberalism by the irrational recalcitrance of Republicans. But you don’t advance a philosophically cogent view of American history in an inaugural address in a fit of pique. It wasn’t Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who made Obama believe that progressivism represents the logical outgrowth of the American founding. It wasn’t House Speaker John Boehner who made him weave Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security into the flag as the 51st, 52nd and 53rd stars.
Yes, Obama would have preferred to pass his agenda with Republican votes. That wouldn’t have made the agenda any different or changed his conviction that History with a capital “H” runs in one direction — toward more government and social liberalism.
Obama is making his play, as the newest cliche goes, to become the liberal Reagan. He has a long way to go yet. He will have to leave office adored. He will have to cement his legacy by winning a de facto third term. His big policies will have to work.
For all of the ideological ambition of his second inaugural, the policy agenda was thin or unachievable. Reducing wait times at the polls isn’t a major item. At the federal level, gay marriage is largely up to the courts. He will get much less on guns than he wants and probably nothing significant from Congress on climate change. His best chance for a breakthrough is on immigration, which divides Republicans.
The virtue of the address was making his intentions unmistakable, although his critics never mistook them in the first place.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.