The Subtext of Obama’s Speech: My Critics Are Un-American Reactionaries!

Obama's second inaugural address was another attempt to sow division within the GOP

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Spectators fill the National Mall to watch President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in on Jan. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

President Obama’s second inaugural address is being hailed (and attacked) as the most progressive speech he’s ever given, a full-throated game changer that suggests an aggressive new vision for his second term. I don’t know. I thought it was kind of boring. It seemed like a rehash of his we’re-all-in-this-together campaign themes, with some familiar shots at you’re-on-your-own Republicans. Then again, I’ve always been less impressed than most by Obama’s words — I thought his 2012 convention speech was a dud too — and more impressed than most by his deeds.

I saw the speech as an extension of Obama’s divide-and-conquer legislative strategy, trying to break pragmatic Republicans — the kind who understand that “we cannot mistake absolutism for principle” — away from rejectionist Tea Partiers. The President repeatedly described a broad national consensus, then repeatedly claimed that his harshest critics are outside it: antigovernment extremists who don’t want to build railroads, educate children or protect the vulnerable; reactionaries who “still deny the overwhelming judgment of science” regarding climate change; neocons who don’t understand that “enduring peace and lasting security do not require perpetual war.”

He also implied that Republicans pushing for deep cuts in entitlements during the current round of fiscal negotiations are so far out of the mainstream they believe “that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.” Here he is twisting the knife:

We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social security — these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

I thought that was a clever way to trash Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and other Republicans who see half their fellow Americans as lollygaggers. The subtext was: My critics are reactionary extremists! I happen to agree, but I don’t see what’s so statesmanlike or visionary about saying so in a speech billed as a homily about common ground. Obviously, Obama wants reality-based Republicans to abandon the dead-enders; that’s what happened on the fiscal-cliff deal, which got Obama just about everything he wanted, as well as the relief bill for Hurricane Sandy victims. But equating opposition to Obama’s policies with nostalgia for an America where “parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn” might not be the best way to sow that kind of division in the GOP.

In any case, Obama has governed as a left-of-center pragmatist, and I see no evidence from his rhetoric that he intends a different approach in his second term. He did make a strong pitch for climate action, but he did that in his first inaugural too, and then he followed up with strong climate action. He did make a strong pitch for gay marriage, but he’s been doing that for the past year. Anyone who thinks that Obama never talks about alleviating poverty or training science teachers or building research labs or reducing inequality or pushing equal pay for equal work has never heard Obama talk.

“We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial,” he said. That’s classic Obama. He’s not an Ivory-soap liberal. He’s a guy who gets things done. His progressive rhetoric doesn’t impress me, but he’s making a lot of progress.

233 comments
MarieBillanoStratas
MarieBillanoStratas

Glad Pres. Obama didn't use "common ground" anad "bipartisan nor did he appeal to the Republicans to work together. That certainly was a departure from Pres. Obama's past speeches which were always appealing, almost begging, the REpugs to please, please, please work with us for the good of the country. And, voila, the Republicans whined that Pres. Obama did not even mention or attempted to be "nice" to the Repugs. 4 years of appeasing the idiotic Repugs got Pres. Obama nothing! Even when the Repugs were defeated by Obama twice in the national elections, Repugs act as if they were the ones who won. Only pigs and pig-headed folks refuse to accept reality and adjust. 

dregstudios1
dregstudios1

Will we ever see bipartisan politics in our country again?  The fringe element within the Republican Party has pushed them all to the far right of the isle where they’ve gridlocked our government for two years now.  Will the next two be any different?  They’ve been very public about their main goal being to block and bamboozle the President’s every move.  It takes many hands to paint the Blackface on Obama.  See my visual report of his makeup session at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/10/bamboozling-obama.html

kathy
kathy

Apparently everything is about the Republicans.  I thought it was a speech laying out the rationale for his policies, tying them to his understanding of the foundational creed of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Silly me.

Tero
Tero

I wouldn't say that all of Obama's critics are "Un-American Reactionaries". I would certainly classify the obstructionism and hysterical opposition he has faced during his first term as "un-American". I would also classify the GOP as having become deeply "un-American" since Obama's first election.

Sulley_S
Sulley_S

Truth be told it was BORING. Not one for Historical significance IMO.   Hardly any applause lines.  Not Unifying. Not Inspiring.  I didn't expect much and I got even less.  Many are saying they can't remember anything significant to take away and remember from that speech. 

aztecian
aztecian

rethuglicans are the party of the whiteman...grand old racist whiteman party is what it is.  time for them to go!

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

Grunwald says the speech was nothing new, Crowley says it was bold, Jennifer Rubin just spews her bitter malice, Theissen gives us an impenetrable medieval analysis, NPR has the feel good reations of people in the crowd.

Maybe we should actually read the speech as delivered rather than insert whatever subtext is handy.

gysgt213
gysgt213

@MikeGrunwald you are beginning to sound more and more like one of those people who thinks that is uber cool to piss on everything.  Its almost like you have waited your entire life to be miserable.


notsacredh
notsacredh

OT, but the thermometer says it's 1 degree out. The windchill is 20 below zero. I'm just getting ready to head out for work. It's one of those cushy government jobs. I'm grateful to have it. 20 below is still 20 below.

drudown
drudown

It is difficult to respond to non sequitur, straw man arguments. But Grunfield' (er, whatever) invites ridicule with such whoppers (e.g., it was not Rove, but rather, Obama, that innovated a "divide and conquer legislative strategy"). As for Grunskin's inapt characterization of republicans' struggle with "absolutism over principle"? Perhaps republicans might acquiesce to initiatives that benefit the People. Let's keep it simple and not obscure the most obvious lesson from the last term, i.e., when one partisan faction obstructs any and all agendas, the People lose in the end. And that is why the republicans lost the elections. They might dispense shopworn half-truths that voters voted in the party least likely to cut programs necessary for a flourishing life, but again, the other truth missing is that the GOP's policies of "no new taxes" and "deregulation" and "endless occupations abroad" are more like spite at home. None of these agendas improve the quality of life for the People but rather, weaken our own government of the People, by the People from enforcing a Police Power over matters that truly touch and concern our lives. Just as what happened in Babylon does not need to be taught in classrooms, ensuring that women receive equal rights in Afghanistan is not our Congress' charge: it is improving the lives of kids in our own inner cities- and keeping our classrooms safe. So, unless you want to proffer solutions, let me be the first to tell you that there is nothing more uneventful than you relaying your disinterest as pretext for sour grapes. 

Higg's_Bosom
Higg's_Bosom

My critics are unamerican, reactionaries, and hellbent on ruining this country? Huh, where have we  heard this before?

TomSorensen
TomSorensen

He is just a GOP idiot may they all rot in hell

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

It actually was a bit shocking to read Michael Grunwald's assessment of the President's speech. Distilling the President's  speech to something negative? To marginalize it? It is one thing to recognize that the language used was an extension of ongoing negotiations. It is quite another to disregard how this President's speech was embraced by so many people today. Wow, Grunwald's take on this seems "off".


Sue_N
Sue_N

The subtext was: My critics are reactionary extremists!

Why, yes. Yes, they are.

They've spent the past four years demanding to see this man's birth certificate and college records. They have called him a socialist, communist, Fascist, terrorist-sympathizer, America-hater, secret Muslim, dictator, tyrant, anti-Christ, anti-colonialist (in fact, they've called him everything but the "n" word). They have done everything they could to obstruct every single policy he put forward even when doing so actively hampered this country's economic recovery. They have insulted one half of this country's population simply for voting for him. They have raised paranoia to an art form and whipped their followers into a foaming frenzy of hatred, fear and ignorance. They have actively conspired to disenfranchise large segments of the population. They have race-baited, class-baited, and let their misogynistic freak flags fly. And they have whined. Dear God, how they have whined!

This is who they are, Michael. So why shouldn't he call them on it? God knows our useless political press won't.

fitty_three
fitty_three

I disagree on the issue of his veiled attacks on the GOP.  All presidents address the issue of their times, and Obama is addressing the issues if his and our time. 

It's astonishing to consider that italicized paragraph as twisting the knife.  It is, as Obama put it, self-evident - except to the GOP.

Believe me, he could have called them what they are:

Social Darwinists and hostage takers.

George_the_Shrub
George_the_Shrub

I do however, agree with the theme of this article:  A subtext of the speech can indeed be characterized as Obama  suggesting that his critics are "UnAmerican" reactionaries.  In fact, many of them are!  We have been listening to the rightwing spew nonsensical hatred, economic hogwash, and pre-enlightenment "pseudoscience" since the day Obama was elected the first time, and their chosen candidate in the last election openly expressed his disdain for a near majority of Americans (moreover, at the time, for anyone who disagreed with him).   Seems to me the critics ARE rather unAmerican in fact!   This country was founded by persons inspired by the enlightenment and the rational revolution, or at least that's what I believe I learned from reading the Federalist Papers and biographies of people like Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams.   Now consider someone as completely moronic as James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who believes that 97+% of climate scientist just don't know what they are talking about and that they are engaged in a massive hoax.  It seems to me Inhofe literally defines what it means to be "UnAmerican".

George_the_Shrub
George_the_Shrub

It seems to me that Obama merely stated, rather clearly, how much he supports traditional American values like, fairness, emphasis on judgement based on merit and not one's special group, equality of opportunity and the idea that as Americans we have a responsibility for both the present and the future.  He also takes science seriously so he remarked about our obligations to address climate change.  I guess I should not be surprised that many modern Republicans find these values to be threatening!

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@Michael Grunwald, you sound like a whiny baby.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Nice. Just one part:

  • "America is a beautiful country where anything is possible. And when I say 'anything,' I mean anything -- no matter how insane or contradictory -- can be real, if only in your mind. These realities can only take hold within the vacuum of your brave, irrational dreams. In your dreams, there is no Churchill bust we won't deport. No monthly jobs report we will not manipulate. No poll number that is not worth skewing. No conservative blogger too irrelevant to murder. No Cabinet official too important or ambitious to silence in order to hide The Truth about Benghazi. There is no national tragedy or crisis we won't stage to exploit"

aztecian
aztecian

@kathy yeah...the obstructionist rethugs have been the problem makers for the last 4 years.  get rid of them and you have more benefits, more teachers and free medical care. 

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@Sulley_S Many people cannot remember what they had for breakfast yesterday. The "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall" section was probably the most memorable section of the entire speech. 

reallife
reallife

@Sulley_S "Many are saying they can't remember anything significant to take away and remember from that speech."

what did you expect? the same can and will be said of his presidency

Tero
Tero

@Sulley_S 

If you were gay, a female professional, a member of an ethnic minority, or someone who's life has been touched by gun violence than you might feel differently.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@CerebralSmartie It's especially strange since Michael has been one of the very few journos willing to call the GOPer batshittiness for what it is.

And there is nothing in what Obama said that isn't true. Most of us (at least 52 percent, right?) don't believe those things. We had this election thing and voted against the guys who were trying to sell that particular soap.

I guess we're just not supposed to say these things out loud. Don't want to hurt their tender fee-fees.

reallife
reallife

@53_3  it's the usual - look at history - he's trying to eliminate opposition after gaining power - like the stalinist purges - nothing new -  

good luck with that! 

he's used to dealing with the sheep in his own party

see you at the 2014 shellacking

 


aztecian
aztecian

@KevinGroenhagen

uR on your way to extinction...relax and go retire with your millions...eventually we'll win!

Higg's_Bosom
Higg's_Bosom

@53_3

Yes! By God, I think you're on to something! Now old sport, if only I could put the last few missing pieces together this case would be cracked wide open!

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

@Sue_N@CerebralSmartie Yes, it was jarring to read Grunwald's assessment. Odd. From what I can tell, Grunwald parrots the tweets of Twitter - the tweets emanating from that "anti-intellectual" crowd.Perhaps Rupert Murdoch is involved with this, LOL!


Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@KevinGroenhagen @Hollywooddeed We whiny liberals have got nothing on the supporters of Willard Romney and that little twerp Ayn Rand fan boy VP candidate, who still can't believe we kicked their asses in November.  You're an excellent example of that..  You lost, Jethro.  Man up.  Deal with it.

drudown
drudown

@KevinGroenhagen @Hollywooddeed 

That's just being lazy. Characterizing some idiot GOP pundit as being "liberal". Why don't you humor us liberals and reconcile Cheney saying "deficits don't matter", the "no new taxes" agenda  and your self-perceived allegiance to fiscal prudent policy? Oh, wait. It's just a lie, not unlike the illusory WMDs in Iraq and the fictitious nexus between 9/11 and Saddam. But maybe you can begin with how "cutting taxes raises revenue"? My poor little sir. Afraid to match wits?

outsider
outsider

@reallife @53_3 @outsider2011 


But Bush got out safely. 


Was there a group of lefties arrested on the way to a Bush rally packing rifles? I missed that. 


Can you gimme a link, pls?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@53_3 


We're always thankful when Kevin announce that he's about to post.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@KevinGroenhagen @Hollywooddeed ^^^ Speaking of faux war heroes, Groeny, look in the mirror.

And because you're not hearing about similar reports means that it isn't happening.  Meanwhile, cons' heads are exploding all over the country.

drudown
drudown

@KevinGroenhagen @drudown @Hollywooddeed 

Taken to its illogical conclusion, like so many other GOP proponents, you simply refuse to employ your own wits to actual facts. 

Your refusal to address the merits of my points shall be deemed an admission of veracity.

outsider
outsider

@AfGuy 


Good thing we don't play with Moonbat alert - man, everyone reading would be tanked by now. 

AfGuy
AfGuy

"Anonymous coward"!  Drink!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

I thought you don't call people anonymous cowards. What a lying sack of shit you are.