The Endless Campaign: Inaugural Address as Stump Speech
You have to hand it to Barack Obama. He can take the grandest occasion of democracy and in slightly more than 18 minutes turn it into the most mundane of all political pursuits – – the campaign stump speech.
To the amazement of many, the president used the occasion of his second inaugural for the opening salvo of the 2014 midterm elections. To Obama, there is no difference between governing and campaigning. The president and the candidate are the same. It never ends.
While Obama wrapped his remarks in the lofty rhetoric of the nation’s founding documents and the value of our constitutional republic, his speech was a ringing endorsement of 20th century liberalism, the continuing legacy of Woodrow Wilson, FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society and the belief that government rather than the individual is the source of progress and prosperity.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer summed it up when he said that the inaugural address was “Obama unbound.” He added that the president delivered an “ode to big government” and a ringing defense of modern liberalism.
Obama stated clearly his belief that our fidelity to our founding principles does not preclude new responses to new challenges. He could not have been more clear than when he said, “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” This is a contradiction in terms on the most fundamental level.
The founders believed that the sole responsibility of the federal government was to secure individual freedom. They feared the “collective action” of a powerful central government that would erode the individual’s natural rights and easily slide into outright tyranny.
Obama reassured his liberal base that he intends to pursue the unfinished business of his long agenda. He mentioned all the favorites, including climate change, immigration reform, gay-rights, voter protection, and equal pay for equal work. Then he warned the opposition with a ringing endorsement of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid without a hint that these endangered entitlements are in crisis and demand reform.
Obama’s most glaring mistake in his address was what he did not mention. He ignored the nation’s most demanding challenge, the growing threat of fiscal collapse in the face of more than $16 trillion in federal debt and annual deficits that top $1 trillion. He lamented the squeeze on the middle class but failed to face the challenge of the erosion of the average family’s annual income.
In case there is any doubt of Obama’s relentless campaign mode, the president’s campaign organization, Organizing for America, has now morphed into a new organization, Organizing for Action. This nonprofit, tax-exempt group will utilize the Obama campaign’s vast grassroots resources of email and social media contacts. It is free to raise unlimited funds and is not bound by mandatory disclosure of donors.
Now the Obama faithful will be urged to support his second term agenda and demonize his opponents. To emphasize the new group’s mission, it will be headed by his 2012 campaign chairman. To underline the group’s importance, none other than Michelle Obama herself announced it.
It is easy to see that Obama eagerly anticipates the 2014 midterm elections. Although the Democratic Party made gains in 2012 in both the House and the Senate, the president is stuck with divided government that could block his determination to pursue more big government solutions. This roadblock will be characterized as “dysfunctional government,” but it is precisely what the founders had in mind when they feared the tyranny of the majority and quick fixes to complicated problems.
As a final touch to is second inaugural, the president chose to place himself in the company of Abraham Lincoln. He referred to two landmark Lincoln speeches – – the House Divided speech and most notably the Gettysburg Address. In so doing, he joined the current cultural celebration of Lincoln, who has reached star quality in the form of a blockbuster movie sure to sweep the Academy Awards.
Obama must be envious. All he has is a Nobel Peace Prize. As he gazed out over the million people assembled on the mall and completed his address, no doubt he reflected on the 16th president and asked himself a troubling question. With only about two years before I am a lame-duck, is there time to win an Oscar?
During the course of his career, Walker has worked in Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Phoenix. He served as a reporter in Chicago, a press secretary and speechwriter in Washington, and in numerous positions in New York in corporate and financial services communications.
Walker is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.