January 21 2013
We wish President Obama and his family all the best on a personal level as he prepares today for his second inauguration.
But there is no getting around it: for those of us who believe in small government and personal responsibility over government dependency, the president’s second term poses many challenges. Let us hope that, difficult as they are, we will meet them with good cheer.
But today is an important day in the history of our country. As Matt Continetti of the Free Beacon already has noted in a much-quoted piece:
On the eve of his second inauguration, we ought to face the unpleasant fact that Obama will be remembered as a president of achievement and consequence. It does not matter if, like I do, you think those achievements are horrible and that their consequences will be worse. Obama’s reversal of the Reagan revolution is here.
What was the Reagan revolution? It was lower taxes on the wealthy, more money for the Defense Department, a genuine if somewhat easy-going cultural conservatism, and the rhetorical promotion of business, private initiative, and American nationalism. Presidents Bush and Clinton and Bush fussed with the rhetoric—all three of them used language that was more communitarian than Reagan’s—and tinkered around the edges of tax and spending policy. Bush I raised taxes, Clinton imposed work requirements on welfare, and Bush II oversaw an additional Medicare entitlement, but Reagan’s general approach remained the dominant one.
This is something Obama understood. He wrote critically of Reagan in his first book. But, by his 2008 campaign for the presidency, he had developed something of an appreciation for our fortieth president. It soon became clear that Obama sought to be more like Reagan than Reagan’s successors had been—but in a way that would negate those aspects of Reagan’s legacy that liberals found distasteful. Obama sought to be the anti-Reagan, sought to restore the liberal consensus that prevailed in Washington prior to January 1981. He was not a revolutionary. He was a counterrevolutionary.
The inspiration for the counterrevolution was Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008, spoke on his behalf at that year’s Democratic convention in Denver, and died eight months into his first term. Kennedy was overshadowed in life by the memory of his martyred brothers, John and Robert, but in retrospect it is clear that he was the most influential of the three.
The GOP met last week in Williamsburg to regroup. It appears that they came up with plans to confront the Obama juggernaut with regard to legislation. But reports from Williamsburg say, as far as I can tell, little or nothing about how to fight the rhetorical battle. I didn’t hear anything about how to frame the larger issues and talk to the public about what is at stake.