Obama 2nd Inaugural Speech Word Cloud
By Barry Rubin
President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech is fascinating, as it presents his strategies, tactics, and new political line. Let’s look at it closely.
Obama begins with a very clever bit of hypocrisy:
We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 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 here is Obama saying that the essential basis of American democracy is the Constitution, American exceptionalism, and the Declaration of Independence’s claim of unalienable rights granted to the citizen.
Yet he is on record repeatedly rejecting each of these three ideas.
According to him, the Constitution is flawed for providing only “native liberties” and there is no such thing as American exceptionalism. Also, on several occasions he couldn’t even get the quotation from the Declaration right.
Now he is smarter. He doesn’t say these things are outdated or wrong, but rather that he is going to implement them properly. This is a bold act of misdirection to soothe criticism and to place on himself the mantle of America’s founding documents, pulling the rug from under his critics and appropriating for himself their arguments and symbols.
Next, Obama presents a new worldview intended to justify what he wants: statism, an imperial presidency, social and economic hegemony for the federal government (and within it, the executive branch), more regulation, and more spending.
How does he make this leap? By making it sound like a walk “to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.” In other words, to implement what Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin now, in 2013, requires doing the exact opposite of what everyone has always thought Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin wanted.
– Rights may be “self-evident, they have never been self-executing.” So who is the guarantor that the people will get those rights? Answer: the federal government.
– America can only succeed if there is a national infrastructure. And as we know from his previous speeches (you didn’t build that!), only the government can build or back the “railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.”
– “A free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.” Yes, but it has always thrived under fewer rules than Obama wants, while it has plummeted with the level of rules and definition of fair play Obama has imposed on it.
– We are skeptical of central authority and know government can’t do everything, so for Americans, “celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.”
Up to this point, Obama wants to sound as if he’s largely reading Mitt Romney’s inaugural address. Then there comes a very big “but.”
Times have changed, and “so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” In other words, to protect the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and individual rights, we need a bigger government, more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.
Yes, just as the Minutemen of the American Revolution and the soldiers who fought fascism and communism needed all these things, Obama continues (wrapping himself in the flag), so does modern America to fight … well, what exactly? Presumably they are the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the greedy one percent.
Obama wisely does not specify the targets. That will come later.
While the speech may seem soporific to some and routine to others, it sets out an entirely new road for the United States. Its directions can be described as: turn left, and keep going.
Consider this passage:
No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
Really? And how does that follow? It isn’t as if someone says: “Hi, I’m Bob and I’m going to train all the math and science teachers we’ll need and build the roads and research labs.” There are, after all, other alternatives.
Up to now, with some additions like veterans’ rights and subsidies for research, all that stuff has been pretty much done by private enterprise and individual initiative. People decided to be teachers, and went to universities established by the states, private institutions, and individuals and got an education. It was taken for granted that the national government played virtually no role in education.
Why does this now have to be done collectively?
Companies created labs and networks needed to create jobs. As for roads, most were built and maintained by states.
So in the guise of continuity, Obama just slipped through an unprecedented centralizing of America.
Will the mass media report on this point? Or critique it? Will professors explain to their students what a shocking misstatement of fact this is?
“My fellow Americans,” Obama continues, “we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.” That sentence might have been spoken by previous American presidents. Yet there is a profound difference. When they said “we,” they meant “we the people.” Obama means “we” as the institution that represents all of us, the federal government.
Again, he says that everything must be changed to meet the gigantic crisis America faces.
But — what is that crisis? Obama doesn’t say.
Indeed, since he claims the economy is recovering — so that’s not the crisis — what is it that requires fundamental transformation?
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.
But, good news, all this change doesn’t really change anything, because:
While the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
Hasn’t America basically achieved that goal, at least by its traditional definition?
Isn’t the career of Obama himself proof of that?
But wait — there was a land mine in that phrase. It is absolutely incredible. Let’s look at it again:
While the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.
Wow — this puts us in the sphere of the participation trophy, or the carny games that you know are going to cheat you, but which proclaim: “Everyone a winner.”
How can the nation — that is, the country collectively through the government — reward everyone who, in effect, shows up?
You try, but you don’t do a good job. Reward! You get a university degree that qualifies you to do no known employable job. Reward!
And how hard do you have to try? How much do you have to do to merit that reward?
A society that rewards everyone will soon run out of money. A society that decouples reward from achievement will face the same fate.
Things get even wilder:
We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. … 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.
Again, wow. In other words:
- We have money for everything.
- Why does the U.S. government have to spend more to invest in the generation that will build its future, especially since it is plunging that same generation into hopeless debt? How come previous generations have been able to handle this situation?
- More entitlements equal greater prosperity. By removing risks, they free us to take risks? How about: I’ll risk not buying health insurance because I know the federal government will give it to me free (i.e., at the expense of other people).
- In practice, Obama’s approach — as seen in the debate over taxes and the debt limit — is “damn the debt, full entitlements ahead!”
The same basic approach is applied to climate change, environmentalism, and energy. There is an emergency, we must spend a lot of money, we must act as fast as possible so we cannot really have a debate or think these things through, and we must have the federal government take the lead so we don’t fall behind others.
On foreign policy — which gets only a brief mention — the two main themes are:
America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe.
That is, we will lead from behind. And: “We will support democracy” everywhere.
The closest that Obama comes to defining the emergency: people are treated unequally due to their gender, race, or sexual preferences. He chooses as illustrations the women’s suffrage convention at Seneca Falls, NY (women got the vote a century ago); the civil rights marches at Selma (the civil rights bill passed almost a half-century ago), and the gay demonstrations at Stonewall (also, a long time ago).
Actual facts show that discrimination simply isn’t that common nowadays. So why does America need to be turned upside-down to cope with a problem that has been almost fully solved?
A single sentence best illustrates the Obama method:
For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.
It is a matter of publicly documented fact that in the Obama White House, women are paid disproportionately less. And it is a matter of fact that for any non-government enterprise to behave that way is already illegal under laws passed before Obama entered politics.
Thus, the following principles:
– Portray America as a disaster zone where inequality and unfairness run rampant, even though that is demonstrably untrue. Therefore, the United States must be fundamentally transformed.
– Portray those who don’t support you as engaged in evil, racist, etc., practices. Thus, those who criticize you are illegitimate and don’t deserve a fair hearing, much less compromise.
– Get away with breaking those principles yourself.
Any other president would fear putting an obviously hypocritical phrase like that in his speech, fearing that the mass media would highlight stories exposing you. Obama doesn’t have to worry about that.
Then there is the theme of: “What, me president?” As it appears here:
Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
I cannot think of one thing that Obama has either proposed or done to help those on the streets of Detroit or the hills of Appalachia.
Newtown, on the other hand, offers a rationale for gun control.
There is not a single sentence of the speech in which he refers specifically to anything he did in his first term.
And again, we are told that the crisis is so humongous that there’s no time to waste, so pass the bill without reading it: “For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.” Indeed, Obama even admits that this rush will make a mess. In another sentence no previous president would have dared to utter, he says: “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.” You mean like spending lots of money that is entirely wasted, or doing things that kill jobs in the name of creating jobs?
Obama’s second inaugural speech is — in the context of his previous actions and statements — arguably the most shocking speech an American president has made in the last century.