President Obama’s inaugural address was eloquent and moving in parts. It was also deeply partisan and polarizing, something that is unusual for a day normally devoted to unity and common purpose.
But not in Barack Obama’s America. In his inaugural speech he did what he seemingly cannot keep himself from doing: portraying himself and his followers as Children of Light and portraying his opponents as Children of Darkness.
You are either with Obama–or you are with the forces of cruelty and bigotry. In Obama’s world, there is no middle ground. He is the Voice of Reason; those who oppose him are the voice of the mob. They are the ones who (to cite just one passage from his speech) mistake absolutism for principle, substitute spectacle for politics, and treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
Israelis go to the polls tomorrow and, as we’ve noted previously, there’s not any doubt about who will lead their next government. The voters appear poised to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a qualified endorsement, and while his own party appears to be getting fewer votes than expected, the factions that made up his current government will collectively get what amounts to a landslide victory over the prime minister’s left-wing and Arab critics in the Knesset. But the financial sector’s approval of his performance in office appears nearly unanimous. As Bloomberg News reports, the country’s bonds have gone up 36 percent in dollar value since he took office in 2009 as opposed to a 22 percent average rise for global government debt. The shekel has also gained 13 percent against the dollar in that period and is, according to financial experts, the second-best performing currency in Europe, Middle East and Africa during this time.
That’s a message that gets drowned out by complaints about the rise in the cost of living that generated street protests in Israel in the summer of 2011. Yet for all of the country’s problems, including a deficit that is fueled by Israel’s need to spend a disproportionate amount on defense, there’s little doubt that Netanyahu’s administration has been economically sound and that the country’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds under his leadership. His commitment to maintain the Jewish state’s commitment to a free-market model and the stability that his leadership has given the nation are not the only factors behind the growth numbers, but Israel has become an even better bet for investors in the past four years. The near-certainty that he will stay in office will ensure that this will continue.
President Obama’s Inaugural Address was well delivered and, as we have come to expect from him, quite eloquent. It had the usual obeisance to the traditions of American democracy and the virtue of relative brevity. Yet there was nothing in it that showed that he had learned a thing in the four years since he first took the oath of office.
The address was a clarion call for the country to get behind the liberal agenda he supports. Fair enough. But, like much of what has come from the White House since November, it illustrated that this president was not interested in compromise or listening to any views but his own. If this speech is to be treated as sign of what will come, the next four years will be filled with more bitter partisan argument and ideological intransigence from the president. Even as many Americans were reveling in the feelings of unity that this ceremony engenders in all patriots, President Obama was throwing down a gauntlet to his foes and saying that he will redouble his efforts to demonize Republicans.
Many Americans love to watch the ceremonies that attend to the doings of British royalty as well as the United Kingdom’s elaborate method for opening the sessions of its parliament. For the most part, our more simple republican (with a small r) traditions are less photogenic as well as less tourist friendly. There is something slightly unseemly, albeit understandable, about this American love of the trappings of monarchy.
Yet Inauguration Day is the exception to this rule. The swearing-in of our president and vice president, accompanied by the ceremonial playing of “Hail to the Chief” and the firing of salutes, gives us a little taste of tradition even if it falls short of the “Masterpiece Theatre” level that they maintain on the other side of the Atlantic. But the true resonance of the day’s proceedings lies in its symbolic reaffirmation of the core values of our democracy and the peaceful way in which we transfer and maintain power in our republic. Inauguration Day is a sacred day in our secular calendar, not just because of who is honored but because it recalls the day in 1801 when, for the first time, one party peacefully handed over the presidency to its rival.
Today President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, with a public swearing-in ceremony and a traditional inaugural address. There is and will be much written about what Obama said and what he should have said. No doubt the president has his plans for a second term, and his inaugural address was shaped in large part by his intentions. But another way to prepare such an address is for the president to imagine what he would want to be able to say in his farewell address, or his last remarks as president.
As it happens, this past week marked the 60th anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s farewell address to the American people, as he prepared them for the transition of power from the Democratic Party’s Truman to the Republican Party’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. As is often the case, Truman offers lessons of his own for modern presidents, but because of certain historical conditions he probably has even more to say for someone like Barack Obama. Both Truman and Obama had taken over from presidents who began their term in peacetime and would go on to prosecute America’s participation in a war that necessitated major changes in the country’s approach to national security, leaving that legacy to senators who rose suddenly and unexpectedly to the White House.
Chuck Schumer’s decision to give Chuck Hagel a kosher seal of approval last week seemed to take a lot of the steam out of the growing movement to stop his confirmation as secretary of defense. But, as Alana noted last week, there is still plenty of opposition to President Obama’s choice to head the Pentagon, and yesterday one of the more prominent liberal voices in the media voiced his doubts about the former senator. Former New York Times editor Bill Keller is as reliable a font of liberal conventional wisdom as can be found, but to his credit, he rejects as absurd the argument that Hagel’s military service during Vietnam qualifies him to lead the defense apparatus.
Keller takes aim, as I did recently, at the idea that military valor is a qualification for high office. Even more interesting, while Keller approves of Hagel’s non-mainstream views about engaging Iran and other Islamist threats, he also directly acknowledges that the Nebraskan seems to have a classic case of Vietnam syndrome as well as being unlikely to be able to manage generals. If liberals like Keller are willing to air this kind of a critique of Hagel, then Republicans who are thinking about going to the mat in an attempt to stop his confirmation ought to be encouraged.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago I wrote a post urging Republicans to back away from a confrontation with President Obama over raising the debt ceiling and warning them against engaging in high-profile confrontations and brinksmanship except on the most favorable terrain.
I was therefore quite relieved when Republicans announced that this week they will propose extending the federal debt limit by three months while also requiring that both the House and the Senate pass a budget for the next fiscal year. If either chamber failed to adopt a budget by April 15, that chamber’s members would then have their congressional pay withheld.
As the Wall Street Journal put it,
Immediately following the election, a great deal of attention was paid to the incredibly inept Romney GOTV effort by this blog and many others. The failure of the program Orca was almost too complete, too shocking to be believed and it left many, including myself, wondering what might have been if the Romney campaign had an effective GOTV effort on Election Day. Obama’s margin of victory was such that if there had been a GOTV and organizational effort by the Romney campaign even close to his opponent, there might have been a clear chance at victory in several swing states for the Republican nominee.
After the election, Romney’s digital campaign staff conducted a post-mortem with leading GOP and conservative strategists and, shockingly, reportedly came out feeling “cheerful” despite their walloping not only at the polls, but also in the digital realm. How could these experts have reached a conclusion so far from reality? Simply, many of these digital consultants have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo. RedState’s Erick Erickson named names shortly after the election and explained how and why a group of strategists linked to the RNC and other conservative groups rake in millions every election season, despite their continued failures. There is one notable exception to that group of consultants and digital strategists: Patrick Ruffini.