Saturday, January 26, 2013

Apes, Pigs, and F-16s. By Andrew C. McCarthy.

Apes, Pigs, and F-16s. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, January 26, 2013.

Debate over US sending F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Video. Justice with Judge Jeanine. Fox News, January 27, 2013.

Includes snippet of Morsi from January 12, 2009 saying in English that American taxpayers are buying hatred in the region. At 0.20 to 0.34 in video.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

Russia’s Israel Policies. By Fyodor Lukyanov.

Russia’s Israel Policies. By Fyodor Lukyanov. Russia in Global Affairs, January 26, 2013.

Paul Ryan Addresses the National Review Institute Summit.

Paul Ryan Addresses NRI Summit. National Review Online, January 26, 2013.

Representative Ryan at National Review Institute Summit. Video. C-Span, January 26, 2013.

Paul Ryan Speech at the National Review Institute Summit (Full video 01-26-13). Right Speak, January 28, 2013. Also find it here.

Paul Ryan Tells Republicans They Must Stay United in Budget Battles Against Obama Administration. Fox News Insider, January 26, 2013.

Exclusive Interview with Paul Ryan. Video. Meet the Press with David Gregory, NBC, January 27, 2013. Also find it here, and here.

Paul Ryan Sad That Obama Quoted Ryan Correctly. By Jonathan Chait. New York Magazine, January 22, 2013.

Paul Ryan Breaks Down Under Wonkterrogation. By Jonathan Chait. New York Magazine, January 25, 2013.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights.

State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944. By Franklin D. Roosevelt. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Also find it at The American Presidency Project here.

Commentary by Bob Herbert. New York Times, April 18, 2005. Also find it here.

Commentary by Mark Levin. Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (New York: Threshold Editions, 2009), pp. 40-42.

FDR Second Bill of Rights Speech Footage. Video. YouTube. Also find it here, here, and here.

A Tale of Two Dignities. By Neomi Rao.

A tale of two diginities. By Neomi Rao. The Daily Caller, January 24, 2013.


Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama both spoke of human dignity in their second inaugural addresses. Yet what a difference the years have made — from the dignity of individual liberty and smaller government to the dignity that comes from government security and protection.

President Reagan repeatedly sounded the theme of dignity in his speech. He spoke resoundingly of reducing dependency, cutting back government, and ensuring that “every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our birthright.” In the context of race relations, Reagan spoke of keeping us “on the road to an America rich in dignity and abundant with opportunity for all our citizens.” In foreign policy he would push aside “those in the world who scorn our vision of human dignity and freedom.”

For Reagan, dignity captured the inherent nobility of the individual. He linked the value of each person to a natural yearning for freedom and peace — universal values regardless of race or culture. As a practical matter, Reagan argued that less government would best promote dignity because it would allow opportunity for individual fulfillment and progress.

Obama referred to dignity, but invoked a different, communitarian, and European understanding of dignity. He explained that “every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity” and spoke of dignity in the context of health care, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. His speech exalted the dignity derived from the security of government programs.

Although both presidents used the word “dignity” to convey an elevated idea, they appealed to very different understandings of the relationship between the individual, the community, and the government.

Reagan channeled the traditional American understanding of human dignity implicit in our Constitution. In the United States, dignity exists alongside classical liberal values of freedom, liberty, and autonomy. As Reagan said, “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make for human dignity and progress.” An individual’s dignity comes from freedom and self-determination both in private and public life. Government retains a role, but it must be a small one.

By contrast, Obama channeled a view of dignity more commonly found across the pond, where human dignity depends importantly on certain social-welfare goods, of being part of a community effort in which such goods are provided to everyone. It is the dignity of being provided for by the state.

Modern constitutions in Europe link dignity and equality with the welfare state, rather than with individual freedom. The Swedish Constitution, for example, provides that “Public power shall be exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and the liberty and dignity of the private person. … In particular, it shall be incumbent upon the public institutions to secure the right to health, employment, housing and education, and to promote social care and social security.” Dignity as a guarantee of communitarian security is the norm and the ideal.

Obama reaffirmed the equality of the Declaration of Independence, but his understanding of dignity reflects newer American sources, such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights.” Roosevelt pressed that our Founders’ old-fashioned notions of individual freedom were inadequate to the equal pursuit of happiness. Instead “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security.” Obama amplified this connection between dignity and a collectivist security.

In political life, these dignities have rarely provided a clear either/or. Reagan acknowledges that sometimes government will be necessary and Obama acknowledges some skepticism of central authority. Governing requires a balance between the individual and community. Yet where the balance is struck will make all the difference.

The divergence in emphasis and belief here is clear. Obama’s speech celebrates progress as the discovery of all of the things government can do. Reagan celebrates progress as the march of individual liberty and political freedom.

The different accounts of dignity, progress, and freedom are not easily compatible. More government protection does not simply “enhance” our freedom by making us more secure — rather government programs choose a particular dignity of security and public protection, often at the expense of the dignity of the individual and private choices.

Rush Was Right About Obama. By Rich Lowry.

Rush was right. By Rich Lowry. Politico, January 23, 2013.

Rich Lowry: Rush Was Right About Obama. By Rush Limbaugh., January 24, 2013. YouTube video here.


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 once and for all 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 sundry 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 yet to be fully worked out.

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 heeded his record and his boast in 2008 about “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” and discounted the unifying tone of his rhetoric as transparent salesmanship.

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.”

The GOP Crackup: How Obama is Unraveling Reagan Republicanism. By Robert Reich.

The GOP Crackup: How Obama is Unraveling Reagan Republicanism. By Robert Reich. Salon, January 25, 2013. Also find it here.


The GOP crackup was probably inevitable.  Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years – ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party.

All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies.

Republican libertarians have never got along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else.

Shrink-the-government fanatics in the GOP have never seen eye-to-eye with deficit hawks, who don’t mind raising taxes as long as the extra revenues help reduce the size of the deficit.

The GOP’s big business and Wall Street wing has never been comfortable with the nativists and racists in the Party, who want to exclude immigrants and prevent minorities from getting ahead.

And right-wing populists have never got along with big business and Wall Street, who love government as long as it gives them subsidies, tax benefits, and bailouts.

Ronald Reagan papered over these differences with a happy anti-big-government nationalism.  His patriotic imagery inspired the nativists and social conservatives. He gave big business and Wall Street massive military spending. And his anti-government rhetoric delighted the Party’s libertarians and right-wing populists.

But Reagan’s coalition remained fragile. It depended fundamentally on creating a common enemy: communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home.

On the surface Reagan’s GOP celebrated Norman Rockwell’s traditional, white middle-class, small-town America. Below the surface it stoked fires of fear and hate of “others” who threatened this idealized portrait.

In his first term Barack Obama seemed the perfect foil: A black man, a big- spending liberal, perhaps (they hissed) not even an American.

Republicans accused him of being insufficiently patriotic. Right-wing TV and radio snarled he secretly wanted to take over America, suspend our rights. Mitch McConnell declared that unseating him was his party’s first priority.

But it didn’t work. The 2012 Republican primaries exposed all the cracks and fissures in the GOP coalition.

The Party offered up a Star Wars barroom of oddball characters, each representing a different faction — Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum. Each rose on the strength of supporters and then promptly fell when the rest of the Party got a good look.

Finally, desperately, the GOP turned to a chameleon — Mitt Romney — who appeared acceptable to every faction because he had no convictions of his own. But Romney couldn’t survive the general election because the public saw him for what he was: synthetic and inauthentic.

The 2012 election exposed something else about the GOP: it’s utter lack of touch with reality, its bizarre incapacity to see and understand what was happening in the country.  Think of Karl Rove’s delirium on Fox election night.

All of which has given Obama the perfect opening — perhaps the opening he’d been waiting for all along.

Obama’s focus in his second inaugural — and, by inference, in his second term — on equal opportunity is hardly a radical agenda. But it aggravates all the tensions inside the GOP. And it leaves the GOP without an overriding target to maintain its fragile coalition.

In hammering home the need for the rich to contribute a fair share in order to ensure equal opportunity, and for anyone in America — be they poor, black, gay, immigrant, women, or average working person — to be able to make the most of themselves, Obama advances the founding ideals of America in such way that the Republican Party is incapable of opposing yet also incapable of uniting behind.

History and demographics are on the side of the Democrats, but history and demography have been on the Democrats’ side for decades. What’s new is the Republican crackup — opening the way for a new Democratic coalition of socially-liberal young people, women, minorities, middle-class professionals, and what’s left of the anti-corporate working class.

If Obama remains as clear and combative as he has been since Election Day, his second term may be noted not only for its accomplishment but also for finally unraveling what Reagan put together. In other words, John Boehner’s fear may be well-founded.

Obama: Reagan of the Left. By Charles Krauthammer.

Obama: Reagan of the Left. By Charles Krauthammer. National Review Online, January 24, 2013.

The president sees himself as the unabashed apostle of the ever-expanding state.


The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the Left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that is.

Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none” ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.

But the substance was no surprise. After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his very first address to Congress four years ago (February 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social-democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.”

Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, which is 18 percent of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending. Washington now spends 24 percent of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.

Obama’s ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural address.

It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state and (2) expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.

The first part of that agenda — clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today’s radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.

As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday’s inaugural address reinstated yet another grand Obama project — healing the planet. It promised a state-created green-energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).

The playbook is well known. As Czech president (and economist) Václav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.

Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction. This speech was spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the post-industrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) — the crisis of an increasingly insolvent entitlement state.

On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.

For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.

In the eye of history, Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On January 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And then succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared “the era of big government is over.” So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare.

Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t abolish entitlements; he preserves the old ones and creates new ones in pursuit of a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling social differences are the great task of government.

Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not. He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton accepted and thus validated the new Reaganite norm.

Not Obama. His mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy. Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the Left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the title.

Obama’s Declaration of Collectivism. By Larry Kudlow.

Obama’s Declaration of Collectivism. By Larry Kudlow. National Review Online, January 25, 2013. Also find it here.

Larry Kudlow Radio Podcast. 77 WABC Radio, January 26, 2013.


One of the least remarked upon aspects of President Obama’s inaugural speech was his attempt to co-opt the Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Independence to bolster his liberal-left agenda.

Sure, the president quoted one of the most important sentences in world history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So far, so good. But he later connected the Declaration with his own liberal agenda: “ . . . that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action.” (My italics, not his.)

He fleshed this out with his trademark class-warfare, income-leveling rationalizations. Such as: “The shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” He also talked about “Our wives, mothers, and daughters that earn a living equal to their effort.” He followed that up with, “The wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.”

Here’s what I take away from all this: Mr. Obama is arguing counter to the Founding Fathers that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of equality of results, not the equality of opportunity, and that he will do what he can to use government to make everybody more equal in terms of their income and life work.

That is exactly wrong. We should be rewarding success. We should be promoting entrepreneurship. We should be encouraging individual effort and opportunity.

But this was no opportunity speech. This was a redistributionist, income-leveling speech. And it completely missed the point of the Founding Fathers some 237 years ago.

They were talking about the equality of opportunity, not results. Theirs was a declaration of freedom, not government power or authority.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence was written expressly to begin a revolution against the autocratic monarchs of England, who used their government authority to tax, regulate, and oppress the colonists without any representation or voting rights, thus denying them the unalienable rights of liberty.

So while Obama was on the one hand preaching “fidelity to our founding principles,” on the other he was saying that preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action.

Collective action? The Founders were talking about individual liberty and rights. Not the power of a collectivist government.

The “collective” is a socialist idea, not a free-market capitalist thought. And the story of the last quarter of the 20th century was of the absolute breakdown and end of the collectivist model. Collectivism was thrown into the dustbin of history by the weight of its own failure.

To me, Obama’s mistaken opinions regarding the Declaration of Independence, and his total lack of understanding of the thinking behind the Declaration, is more troubling than any of the liberal programmatic proposals he set forth. Fundamentally, you have to wonder if the president really understands the American idea, and the American historical experience, beginning with the great wisdom of the Founders.

Collectivism also means “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” During his second-term inaugural speech, Obama actually said, “We do not believe in this country that freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.” Were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates lucky? Was Henry Ford lucky? Was Thomas Edison just lucky?

How about they used their God-given talents of creativity, imagination, and ingenuity, coupled with hard work, to create commercial ventures that financially empowered millions upon millions of people who were then able to live a better and more comfortable life?

That’s what the Founders had in mind. Freedom.

Dick Morris on the Election of 1824.

Dick Morris on the Election of 1824. Video., January 26, 2013. Also find it here.

Rand Paul: “Attack On Israel Will Be Treated As An Attack On US.”

Rand Paul: “Attack On Israel Will Be Treated As An Attack On US.” Interview with Ben Shapiro. Real Clear Politics, January 25, 2013. Also find it here and here.

The Significance of Obama’s Inaugural Address. By Peter Wehner.

The Significance of Obama’s Inaugural Address. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, January 21, 2013.


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.

In that sense, Obama is the perfect president for our current political culture. And for all of his self-perceived similarities with Abraham Lincoln, he is the antithesis of Lincoln when it comes to grace, a charitable spirit and a commitment to genuine reconciliation. Mr. Obama is, at his core, a divider. He seems to relish it, even when the moment calls for a temporary truce in our political wars.

Which leads me to my second point.

Mr. Obama’s speech was not a call to unity; it was a summons to his liberal base to fight–on global warming, for gay rights, for gun control, for renewable energy, and for a diminished American role in world affairs. And the president’s speech also signaled that he will oppose, with passion and demagoguery, anyone who attempts to reform our entitlement programs. He is fully at peace with running trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. He not only won’t lift a finger to avoid America’s coming debt crisis; he will lacerate those who do.

A final point: Mr. Obama’s speech was a highly ambitious one intellectually. What he was attempting to do was to link progressivism to the American political tradition, to the vision of the founders and the Declaration of Independence. “The greatest progressive arguments throughout the country’s history have been rooted in the language of the Declaration of Independence,” Michael Waldman, who was chief speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “This speech was really rooted in that tradition.”

The key to understanding the president’s inaugural address, then, was this line: “Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words [from the Declaration] with the realities of our time.”

Mr. Obama views himself as America’s bridge, the modern-day interpreter of Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. Mr. Obama’s agenda is their agenda. Or so says Obama.

Mr. Obama is a Man of Zeal. He believes the currents of history are swift, powerful, and on his side.

What we are seeing is the authentic Obama, a liberated and fiercely committed progressive who believes he is an agent for social justice and fairness. He feels the election completely vindicated him and his agenda. He has sheer contempt for his opponents. And in his second term he will crush them if they stand in his way.

Call it the transmogrification of Hope and Change.

Obama follows in Reagan’s footsteps. By E. J. Dionne, Jr.

Obama follows in Reagan’s footsteps. By E. J. Dionne, Jr. Washington Post, January 23, 2013.

In Their Own Words: Obama on Reagan. New York Times.

Obama Talks of Reagan and Republicans. Video. YouTube, February 3, 2008.


To understand how Barack Obama sees himself and his presidency, don’t look to Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln. Obama’s role model is Ronald Reagan — just as Obama told us before he was first elected.

Like Reagan, Obama hopes to usher in a long-term electoral realignment — in Obama’s case toward the moderate left, thereby reversing the 40th president’s political legacy. The Reagan metaphor helps explain the tone of Obama’s inaugural address, built not on a contrived call to an impossible bipartisanship but on a philosophical argument for a progressive vision of the country rooted in our history.

Reagan used his first inaugural to make an unabashed case for conservatism. Conservatives who loved that Reagan speech are now criticizing Obama for emulating their hero and his bold defense of first principles.

And like Reagan, Obama seeks to enact his program not by getting the opposition party’s leaders to support him but by winning over a minority of the less doctrinaire Republicans — especially representatives from the Northeast, West Coast and parts of the Midwest who sense where the political winds in their regions are blowing.

. . . . . . . . . .

“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” Obama said. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. ... He tapped into what people were already feeling, which was: We want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

“I think we are in one of those times right now,” Obama went on, “where people feel like things as they are going aren’t working, that we’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having and they’re not useful. And the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out.”

The Obama Majority. By Harold Meyerson.

The Obama Majority. By Harold Meyerson. Washington Post, January 22, 2013.


The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges. As he left the stage, he stopped and turned to marvel at the crowd, at the new American majority they represented. They were the ones he, and we, were waiting for.

Obama as the anti-Reagan. By Greg Sargent.

Obama as the anti-Reagan. By Greg Sargent. Washington Post, January 24, 2013.


The key to Obama’s argument, as Ed Kilgore points out, is that he made the “long lost liberal case that collective action is necessary to the achievement of individual freedom, instead of implicitly conceding that social goals and individual interests are inherently at war.” Indeed, Obama himself put it this way: “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

Crucially, Obama presented this idea as the philosophical underpinning that unified all of his specific policy proposals, from the vow to combat climate change, to the push for equal pay for women, to the fight for full equality for gay Americans, to the need for voting and immigration reform. He cast inequality and the unfairness of the unfettered free market as threats to freedom, i.e., the freedom to pursue happiness. And this goes beyond the Inaugural: Remember, in his speech laying out his proposal for action on guns, he cast gun violence as a threat to the freedom to pursue happiness within a civil society.

This overarching philosophical argument was at the center of the 2012 election. The battles over Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and over the GOP suggestion that the President’s “redistributionist” and “collectivist” tendencies are fundamentally at odds with the nation’s values, were at bottom an argument over the true nature of our shared responsibility to one another. Republicans angrily argue that Obama unfairly caricatured the GOP position as a “you’re on your own” ethic. But Obama was broadly articulating a legitimate philosophical difference between the parties, and the election results suggest Obama’s vision is shared by the American mainstream and the emerging majority coalition of Obama voters, i.e., nonwhites, college educated women (and to a lesser degree college educated men) and younger voters. Obama’s catchphrase — “we’re all in this together” — was widely mocked on the right, but this emerging coalition appears to understand this argument on Obama’s terms, as a governing ethic for moving the country forward.

An expansive case for progressivegovernance, grounded in language of Founding Fathers. By Greg Sargent. Washington Post, January 21, 2013.


Today, Obama quoted extensively from the Declaration, and declared that it is our challenge to “bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.” He then went on to make the case for robust government activism in the economy — precisely in order to preserve individual freedom, i.e., the ability to pursue happiness. He linked this to the need for more government investment in infrastructure and education. For rules designed to ensure fair market competition. For maintaining the social safety net (in the form of Social Security and Medicare, achieved by two great Democratic presidents). For the need for a greater push for equal pay for women and full equality for gay Americans (which Obama linked to the struggle for civil rights for African Americans by invoking Martin Luther King).

Obama tempered his communitarian language by claiming it is not incompatible with “skepticism of central authority,” but the clear statement of his governing philosophy, which he insisted is rooted in our founding principles, was unequivocal: “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

The tensions inherent in that juxtaposition are critical. Today Obama was effectively declaring victory in the great argument that has consumed us for the last four years. During the campaign Obama argued his vision of a judicious mix of individual and collective responsibility is more in keeping with our national identity than the GOP’s “you’re on your own” ethic. Republicans angrily rejected this characterization, but in truth, the GOP’s platform and rhetoric did reflect what E. J. Dionne has described as “radical individualism.” The public’s rejection of the GOP caricature of Obama’s vision — as wildly radical and out of step with American values — itself confirmed that the mainstream agrees with Obama’s argument that “collective action” is not incompatible with American ideals of freedom.

In this sense, Obama’s speech today was similar to Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address in 1981. Reagan used that speech to articulate the conservative philosophy of governance and to declare the country’s turn in that direction. Obama today made the case, implicitly, that the country has now thrown in its lot with progressive governance as he defined it. Unlike Reagan, who made that declaration in his first inaugural, Obama needed to get through a tumultuous first term before having the confidence to do the same. Obama had to deal with profound domestic crises and was often rendered over-cautious by a radicalized opposition that was determined to destroy him at all costs. “Sometimes he didn’t quite get the balance,” presidential historian Stephen Hess told me today. “It’s as if he is claiming the balance now.”

Today, Obama all but declared ideological victory. That was the hidden meaning of Obama’s frequent invocation of “we, the people” — he was effectively rooting his vision of the proper balance of individual and collective responsibility, and the need for the sort of collective action the right all-too-cavalierly denounces as tyranny, in their authority.

Dixie’s Enemy Within. By Colin Woodard.

Dixie’s Enemy Within. By Colin Woodard. Washington Monthly, January-February 2013.

Review of Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South. New York: Random House, 2013.

How the ideology of white supremacy undermined the South’s own war effort.