Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama 2.0

My first reaction to President Obama's second inaugural address, while I was watching it this morning, was that it was a bit long. Compared to Lincoln's majestic second inaugural address (a comparison the president invited when he borrowed a few words from Lincoln's speech), maybe it was a bit wordier than necessary. On the other hand, Lincoln only had to address one overriding issue, while Obama has to deal with many. By that standard, President Obama did many things remarkably well. He linked gay rights to the women's rights and civil rights movements, simply by listing the alliterative place names: Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. He rejected the doctrine of perpetual war, and reminded those who espouse it that we have often before in our history "turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends." He affirmed the need to confront climate change, and made clear that we cannot ignore science and facts. And he reminded those who think that rugged individualism is the only answer, that many challenges must be met by collective action.

By the end, I think a lot of the political opposition was wondering what happened to the post-partisan Obama, the guy who called for a new politics, and who encouraged us to work together constructively instead of dividing ourselves by region or party or ethnic background. They might be wishing they still had the 2009 Obama to deal with, instead of a stronger, more confident, more partisan second term President Obama. What happened to the first term Obama was that the opposition rebuffed all of his efforts at inclusiveness and cooperation, and refused to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue.

The second term Obama is letting the opposition know that he means to go over their heads and enlist the American people's support for a progressive agenda. He can do that with some confidence that most people support goals such as immigration reform, preserving the social safety net, expanding opportunities for the middle class, and staying out of war. I think the president still believes in the politics of inclusiveness and consensus. That's part of what he meant by all those references to doing things together. But the opposition is going to have to buy in to that concept this term, instead of flatly rejecting everything the president suggests. If they want to be part of the solution, it's now up to them to ask to be included in a new bi-partisan approach to these problems.

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