January 22 2013
In his second inaugural address, President Obama did something he likes to do: quote from the Founders.
But he is always building on the Founders, using them as a mere rhetorical tool to present Barack Obama’s new, improved United States.
Rich Lowry noticed this, too:
[President Obama] began and ended with the Founding Fathers and threaded the Declaration of Independence throughout. This gave the speech a conservative sheen. He used the words “timeless,” “ancient,” “lasting,” and “enduring.” He sounded like Republican senator Marco Rubio in invoking “what makes us exceptional,” namely “our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago.”
But this framing of the speech only served to amplify the ambition of President Obama’s larger political project. He hopes to reorient the American mainstream and locate conservatives outside it. He wants to take the Founders from the Right and baptize the unreconstructed entitlement state and the progressive agenda in the American creed.
This is why I think that the GOP’s rhetorical response to President Obama has been so inadequate. Sure, they’re outnumbered. Sure, have to figure out how to deal with legislative issues. But they also need to tell us what is at stake: Do you want this kind of country or that kind of country?
Lowry’s headline is about the “re-founding” of the United States. The GOP by and large hasn't talked much to the public about the president's transformational ambitions. The Republicans let him pretend that the most recent fight on the Hill was over whether to tax a small sliver of the population. They need to start relating these smaller issues to the central idea of whether the United States needs to be founded again.
One of the truly galling moments in the speech came when the president said this: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” This is an obvious dig at Republicans—who, unless something has changed, will take it lying down. Coming from the ultimate name-caller, it is especially disheartening.
Some more good takes on the president’s talk: Mona Charen writes about his annoying presumption on comparing himself to Lincoln; on the same theme Peter Wehner finds Obama the antithesis of Lincoln in grace and forgiveness; Steve Hayes writes about the president as an impassioned activist who ignores the country’s inconvenient debt and deficits.