Obama’s Inaugural Speech Was Bold, but Following Through Won’t Be Easy

Post-partisanship proved a mirage in his first term, and it's unlikely Obama's re-election will "break the fever" on the right.

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Rob Carr / Pool / Reuters

President Barack Obama gives his Inauguration Address after being sworn in at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, 2013.

It seems like a very long time ago, but try to remember the hopeful spirit of bipartisanship around the time of Barack Obama’s first Inauguration. The 2008 election had been filled with talk of a new, postpartisan politics, driven in part by “Obama Republicans” from Wall Street to the military. On the night of his first swearing-in, Obama held dinners to honor his defeated GOP opponent, John McCain, and the Republican general Colin Powell. He would later dine with a group of conservative columnists. His first Inaugural Address seemed to endorse the theory that his election represented a transformation of American politics: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply,” Obama said.

Alas, the cynics were largely right. Obama made several first-term efforts to negotiate with Republicans, but they all failed. Republicans dug in against the new President, and it became clear, particularly after the 2011 debt-limit showdown, that the GOP’s militant right wing had no interest in compromise. (Many Republicans maintain that Obama never bargained with them in good faith.)

(MORE: What You Missed While Not Watching Yesterday’s Presidential Inauguration)

After months of hewing to the image of a conciliator, Obama finally learned his lesson — and went on the attack. In a pivotal December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kans., he linked Republicans to a spirit of “breathtaking greed” and a “you’re on your own” economic philosophy. In April 2012 he attacked the “radical vision” and “social Darwinism” of Paul Ryan’s budget plan. His 2012 campaign was less about building bipartisan bridges than barricading the middle class from the GOP’s social and economic agenda.

With his second Inaugural Address, Obama has replaced his olive branch with a hot poker. He reiterated his campaign themes of equality and fairness, casting himself as a defender of regular Americans against Republican budget cutters and the wealthy interests they serve. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” he said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” He gave unprecedented attention to gay rights (“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law”).  And he signaled that addressing climate change — a condition whose existence many conservatives simply deny — will be a main priority of his second term.

(VIDEO: Obama’s Speech, in 180 Seconds)

Liberals were delighted by Obama’s speech. But they should be careful about developing a giddy new round of expectations. Just as postpartisanship proved a mirage in the first term, Obama’s suggestion in this past campaign that his re-election would “break [the] fever” on the right and induce Republicans to cooperate with him is looking overly optimistic. Leveraging its control of the House and using the filibuster to slow legislation in the Senate, the GOP fought Obama to the brink of the Jan. 1 fiscal cliff and pushed him back from his pledge to raise taxes on Americans making more than $250,000 a year. (Rates will now go up for individuals making $400,000 or more.) And although Republicans have backed down from their game of chicken over the debt ceiling, that appears to be a short-term tactical retreat in the larger budget war. Meanwhile, Republicans are showing no sign of joining Obama’s call to tighten gun-control laws. And if the GOP cooperates on another one of Obama’s chief second-term priorities — immigration reform — it will be a function of the party’s existential panic, not the breaking of a partisan fever.

And climate change? The good news for Obama is that public opinion, after turning against government action to slow global warming, has shifted back in the activists’ favor. But Republicans (along with many coal-country Democrats) remain uninterested in defying Big Business on the issue. Obama will probably have to resort to aggressive Executive action, including a crackdown on existing power-plant emissions. It’s not clear, however, whether that sort of unilateral action would be enough to make a real difference.

Ultimately, Obama’s speech won’t really shift the Washington political dynamic. It was more a reflection of the fact that postpartisanship is dead and buried, with no evident hope of resurrection. Even with his re-election behind him, Obama has resigned himself to nonstop partisan combat. And while his supporters may hope for some kind of tide-turning Normandy landing, it’s just as likely that the future holds more Western-front-style trench warfare. But who wants to hear about that on Inauguration Day?

PHOTOS: Inauguration Day Photo Album: An Inside View of the Pageantry and Parade

111 comments
drudown
drudown

A few thoughts.

As a threshold matter, what does that say about the sway of special interests when GOP leaders "refute the existence" of climate change? How can a voter credibly conclude that, in the end, representations made on other material issues by GOP strategists is, in the end, a "strategy" toward responsible leadership? The world has irrevocably changed in the 40 years of my life. I need no other person's assent to know that the climate is warming, ocean currents are swirling, and the new directions are fraught with unpredictability that present GOP "strategy"seeks to appease by obfuscating what, in the end, truly matters. I'm sure most Americans don't realize how ridiculous the abstract notion that Iran poses a substantial threat to the People under UN Sanctions. Americans, by and large, truly want other people and cultures to have happiness, and our collective reticence towards continued occupations abroad is indirectly History picking itself up and dusting off the outer, "unreal" layer of providing "Freedom" to Arab (or Persian or...) people that have the selfsame privileges and immunities under Natural Law and a right to self-determination. What all people truly desire, whether in the Middle East, the Far East, Greece, or anywhere in between: is an opportunity for a fresh start. If anything, the realities of climate change obviate ancillary and, by necessity of survival, must needs become secondary considerations when it comes to debt- the necessary measures that must be undertaken in the next Presidential term to REORGANIZE debt at the federal, state and/or municipal level- and offer a means for other, participating sovereigns to do so in (literally) nearly every country on every habitable continent. As then candidate John McCain would so frequently remark about his K street Health Care plan: "why not?"

Having a solvent government by the People, for the People that works in good faith with other, newly solvent trade partners is the only chance against climate change we've got.

Action is the only reality worth living; not only reality but means for morality majority as well. Anyone that says "but, you can't do that" obviously needs to look beyond the Constitution to the Founding Fathers' collective intent. Tell me, was the United States not destined to lead in this way? To restructure its debt under the auspices of revamping the tax code and provide lines of new credit to investors, developers and engineers to forge a new reality. That is my thought for the day, Mr. President. Congrats.

"The mind must be loosed. It will be loosed." - John Adams

BrandonJohns
BrandonJohns

Obama's whole speech reeked of Marxism. It wasn't from a liberal standpoint, it was from the standpoint of Karl Marx. Talking about the need for a collective society. A collective society is rule #1 in the book of Marx. Collectivism is communism. We are in big, big trouble.

superlogi
superlogi

Bold?  I would call it insane unless you're a died in the wool Marxist.

btt1943
btt1943

Strong in speech, weak in action. Somewhere along the line, he will have to eat his words again -- a talking politician whose decisions have been (and will be) restrained and humbled by the Congress, the very rich, and the powerful lobbyists. Wish him luck.    (btt1943, vzc1943) 

denmarks47
denmarks47

Ok Boys and Girls: Let's all settle down.  This back and forth left right bickering mask the fact that that seems to escape the population:  The vast majority of these political hacks are in DC to get their pockets lined by under the table lobbying etc.  Otherwise they would be making bigger bucks in the private sector.  As far a Bama following through; pleas ekeep in mind the majority of voters selected a Community Organizer / Junior Senator to drive the bus.  Hence, there aint a lot of fertile soil between the ears of the electorate.  All this, including my remarks are academic.  Business drives the bus and it always will.  So go ahead and make great speeches.  They don't mean squat cause businesses world wide drive the bus.

MELEWEB2
MELEWEB2

Following through will not be easy at all. I'm glad Democrats picked up a good handful of seats in 2012, and it looks like the Dems in the Senate have finally grown a spine.  Only time will tell if there is any significant follow through on promises made by President Obama.

paulejb
paulejb

So, those millionaires and billionaires earning $250,000 dollars a year got off scot free due to those dastardly Republicans. What's a poor class warfare mongering, left wing president to do in the face of such intransigence?

gysgt213
gysgt213

Just remember this. 

“No one is suggesting that what we call our earned entitlements – entitlements you pay for, like payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security – are putting you in a ‘taker’ category,” Ryan said on conservative commentator Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “No one would suggest that whatsoever.”

Paul Ryan 2013

JimSpicer
JimSpicer

Obama already has the 47% so more re-distribution of the nations wealth can only have an overall dilution effect on the economy; more taxes, more regulation, less profit, lower employment and so forth. His agenda is "left turn Clyde" for the sake of his personal ambition to socialize Amercia. What about the Americans who have worked all their lives to get whereever they got to and now have to share it with folks that won't or can't work? This is less about partisan politics and more about bending American citizens to his will. Why do we want to follow someone who never worked and trained his early years in an anti-American militant radical environment? Wake up America...

HarryKuheim
HarryKuheim

How is yet another Campaign Speach full of vague platitudes "Bold"?

GrantMacDonald1
GrantMacDonald1

Being black, left-handed or being gay is just as natural.  It is a sometimes rare occurrence to fall in Love and to hold that person in your heart and be loved in return ... it is something that should be celebrated!   If it’s between two guys or two girls -- all the better.  It takes even more courage to defend that LOVE!

TheDisclosure
TheDisclosure

Very nice; now Mr. President; let's act on climate change and renewable energy.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

"Liberals were delighted by Obama’s speech. But they should be careful about developing a giddy new round of expectations."

Michael: Was this really you? Or, were you channeling Joe for a minute there...?

(I imagine Mr Klein nodding in approval and thinking: ' Strong in the ways of the Concern Troll is this one...')

MrObvious
MrObvious

OT


For everyone that loved Zero Dark Thirty - torture just doesn't work (well at all)..


Mohammed Al-Qatani, the so-called "20th hijacker," who may have been some part of the inspiration for the "Ammar" character who was tortured in the opening scene, might have been the first detainee to mention the name of bin Laden's courier. But as Gibney points out, al-Qatani gave that information up to the FBI, in legit, torture-free interrogations, before he was whisked away to Gitmo for 49 days of torture that included such insanities as forcing him to urinate on himself

The problem with people who argue for torture is the fact that they have to discount all the legitimate interrogation done in this country on a day by day basis that solves all kind of crimes without the need for torture.

Sure - torture is 'macho' but deep down inside it's for revenge and to get even. It's not a useful tool for information.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@LibelFreeZone 

Hey rusty!

Did it actually take you this long for therapy and medications to kick in after Obama won in November?

jmac
jmac

"Obama's speech won't really shift the Washington political dynamic."

  The shift was  made when he was re-elected.  You can't erase the zeitgeist of the day by saying it's going to be business as usual.  The lesson of the mid-terms is that you speak out and you attack the crazies and you call out their lies in the bully pulpit.  You don't worry about 'hurting their feelings'.   It's Morning In America !     All the press has to do is put Senator Ted Cruz out there for everyone to see.  It's that easy.  

aztecian
aztecian

@paulejb poor white rethug can't handle it.  holy shit $250k...you need to pay.  uR a thief...making your money off the backs of hard working labor!

roknsteve
roknsteve

@paulejb So according to Paulie, Billionaires only earn a quarter of a million dollars a year?  Those poor Billionaires have such bad investments that Paulie feels sorry for them.  

outsider
outsider

@paulejb  

Really burns you that your side lost, eh Paulie?

All those policies that people don't want, gerrymandering failing (though it did help in the short term, despite less seats and far less votes for House Repubs), and lying outright. Not to mention the obstruction, and endangering the country in the name of politics. 

Sucks to be you. 4 more years. 

outsider
outsider

That's a change in tune

@gysgt213

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Whether true or not,

Torture = Oscars!

...you didn't know that??

paulejb
paulejb

@roknsteve @paulejb ,

Did you miss the memo, Stevie? Barack Hussein Obama and his merry band of looters and pillagers have been describing families earning $250,000 annually as millionaires and billionaires for years. Do you suppose Barry has trouble with math?

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@outsider2011 @paulejb   Add at least four more additional years of misery for the righties: who will they have to run in '16? Christie might be their best chance but TP's will sabotage that in primaries, or maybe even third-party him if he gets past 'em ala Romney.

paulejb
paulejb

@outsider2011 @paulejb ,

It really sucks to be a ward of the state as the state goes bankrupt because of the profligate spending of the most left wing president in American history. Wait till the fools who exist by attaching themselves to the government teat discover that it's about to run dry.

outsider
outsider

@Sue_N @outsider2011  

The only way the GOP wouldn't say that, would be if one of their own got shot on campus. Then i bet the story would be different; but i hope it never happens. 

Better for them to talk themselves into irrelevance than for a life be taken for them to understand. 



 

superlogi
superlogi

@outsider2011 @superlogi @DonQuixotic No, it doesn't.  As long as government can control a thing, as in fascism and/or Nazi type socialism, or for that matter Norwegian type socialism, it doesn't need to own it.  In fact, even in the Soviet system, that distinction was made (Sovkhoz vs Kolkhoz).  With regard to your absolute definition of Marxism, there are many different iterations, none of which you seem to be familiar with.  Oh, and virtually no one but an absolute moron thinks the ACA is going to reduce costs for medical care.  Even the Congressional Budget Office doesn't.

outsider
outsider

@superlogi @DonQuixotic 


I think it was more of a misinformed post, personally. 


Marxism means the gov't owns everything. Corporations are still privately, or publicly owned. ACA makes everyone purchase insurance from private companies, etc. 


That isn't Marxism. It's common sense, making people buy, so everyone is covered, and pay less per person. 

Except those who didn't have insurance to begin with - but then showed up for medical treatment anyway, thus driving up the premiums for everyone who had insurance (Because the medical costs had to be offset). 



Sue_N
Sue_N

@outsider2011 @roknsteve @deconstructiva @paulejb Georgie Boy's gearing up to run for something (Land Commissioner? he hasn't really decided yet) here in Texas, where the Bush name still holds power. And he's raking in the money.

I doubt we'll see him run in 2016; he's going to have to spend some time in whatever office he finally decides to run for and build up his name and a base. My guess is he'll run for LC in 2014, maybe governor in 2018, and then POTUS in 2020.

However he does it, though, there's definitely another Bush on the horizon.

outsider
outsider

@roknsteve @deconstructiva @outsider2011 @paulejb  

He is the best option right now. 

Palin is done, and out. 

Rubio is too young, and after his acrobatics over creationism, he doesn't stand a chance. 

Jeb Bush Maybe. Or that other Bush George P Bush; i believe he's Jebs son - he is starting to run at state level. 


But a) he has to get past the bush name, and b) run against either HRC or Biden - who's coming out of the VP looking pretty good (except to those who already disliked him).

paulejb
paulejb

@deconstructiva @outsider2011 @paulejb ,

That is the least of our worries. All of us will be lucky if we are still here in 2016 after four more years of Barry and his merry band of looters and pillagers. 

aztecian
aztecian

@paulejb @outsider2011 more like run you out of the country...u bring everyone down with your obstructionist white wing policies.  your time will come...

outsider
outsider

@JimSpicer @53_3  

Wasn't that the cry for the past 4 years? The right has been wrong, and continues to be wrong. Seriously, Russia 1991? You HAVE to stop watching Fox news, and listening to Beck and Rush. 

If only for yourself.. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@JimSpicer @53_3 Our economy is already Russia circa 1991. The rich and connected control most of the wealth and get most of the tax breaks. I'd like to see it come back to America circa 1950 which Obama is pushing for.