The inauguration of American presidents is truly a special event. Historically, the peaceful transition of power has been rare, and the pageantry that provides the backdrop of this American tradition is both special and remarkable. The United States is a unique nation, but watching the second inauguration of President Obama, one can’t help but be concerned over what happened.
In some ways, Charles Krauthammer was correct that President Obama’s inauguration speech represented the end of the Reagan era. This is not to say that more people now identify as liberals rather than conservatives or that Reagan’s conservative policies no longer work; neither is the case. It is to say that President Obama has empowered those who do not believe that the individual liberty and markets created by our Constitutionally limited government are just and right for the country. The Reagan era was marked not only by success in the form of prosperity and strength, but by the widespread acceptance that government must be limited to provide the freedoms under which such prosperity and strength occur.
For a few decades, those who disagreed with those ideas (progressives, so to speak), had to accept the reality of an electorate that mostly espoused those limited government beliefs. Now, however, President Obama has not only empowered progressives to not have to cater to such an electorate, but to mock and insult anyone who believes in Reagan’s America of a Constitutionally limited government rather than a government of mandated positive rights. Take, for example, this list of straw man attacks directed at his opponents, provided by Michael Gerson quoting from the President’s speech:
Those who oppose this agenda, in Obama’s view, are not a very admirable lot. They evidently don’t want our wives, mothers and daughters to “earn a living equal to their efforts.” They would cause some citizens “to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.” They mistake “absolutism for principle” and “substitute spectacle for politics” and “treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” They would have people’s “twilight years . . . spent in poverty” and ensure that the parents of disabled children have “nowhere to turn.” They would reserve freedom “for the lucky” and believe that Medicare and Social Security “sap our initiative,” and they see this as “a nation of takers.” They “deny the overwhelming judgment of science” on climate change, don’t want love to be “equal” and apparently contemplate “perpetual war.”
In other words, President Obama no longer advocates a United States above red and blue states; he now advocates the complete dismissal of those who believe there is a vast space between individuals left on the street and federal government programs as not only extreme but ill-intentioned.
This rhetoric will underscore the partisan battles that will likely continue. President Obama is not likely to achieve success like Reagan in the form of prosperity and world influence, and he is equally unlikely to overcome the reasons for the deepest partisanship of our country like Lincoln was able to. He is far more likely to facilitate a deeper hostility between the left and right as he not only pushes for more progressive policies while ignoring and exacerbating the greatest issue of our day, but also facilitates the outward manifestations of jealousy and even hatred that drive many people to blame those who have for the plight of those who have not.
No one knows exactly what the future will look like, but a good bet is that in the future, the country will remain deeply divided and will experience more animosity as animosity is encouraged. In the meantime, the debt will grow, our wealth and prosperity will likely decrease, and a diminished American influence in the world will likely leave the world less safe.
But perhaps in a few years the poorer, weaker America can celebrate same-sex marriage and forcing Catholic organizations to provide contraception. Forward.