24 January 2009

Notes On Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Here are a few of my comments on President Obama’s inaugural address of Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009.  I made no attempt to organize or integrate my thoughts; they are simply extemporaneous remarks appended to quotes from his speech.  There were many other comment-worthy quotes, but I found that I was starting to repeat myself and it was taking too long to finish.  I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunities in the next four (or eight) years to comment on Mr. Obama’s activities.

With no further ado:

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath...”  (Note 1.)

Forty-three Americans, not forty-four, have taken the presidential oath.  Grover Cleveland, who was the 22nd and 24th President, counts as only one American.

... America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers and true to our founding documents.

On the whole, I would say Americans retain a sense of independence much more than say, Europeans (who have never valued individualism), but I do not think that “We the People” have remained faithful to the ideals of the founders.  The fundamental, integrating principle of the founding of America was the notion of individual rights; the government was established as a servant of its citizens with the sole purpose of safeguarding those rights.  To be American in spirit is to stand upright, alone if need be; to produce; to pull one’s own weight; and to trade and associate with whomever one wishes - provided only that one initiates no harm to others.  I suspect our forbearers would hardly recognize Americans who look to the government for assistance at every turn, and they would be aghast at a bloated federal government that rings up trillion dollar deficits and injects itself into every nook of private life.

That we are in the midst of a crisis is now well understood...  Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.  Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered.  Our health care is too costly.

None of this is the province of a proper government.  Beyond upholding contracts and punishing fraud, which are issues of rights protection, the government has no business being in business.  Politicians should have no influence whatsoever in the economy.   And if “our health care is too costly” - an arbitrary estimate that Mr. Obama is in no position to make for me or anyone else - he has only to look to the encroaching federal government, its headlong plunge toward socialized medicine, and the killing burden of regulatory agencies.  Notice that it is the industries that are most pushed and pulled by the government that are suffering the most: banking, finance, medicine, education, and now automobile manufacturers, who have been crippled for years by unions and the tightening grip of environmental regulations.  Nobody is complaining about semiconductors or software being scarce or “too costly”; but of course, that is because those companies are left relatively free from government intervention. 

I shudder at Barack Obama’s call to “make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”  His “new age” is an era of even more heavy-handed government than we’ve already had under the Bush administration.  As blogger Myrhaf wrote in his comments on the inauguration, “In a free country a president does not tell people they must work hard.  In a free country a president does not lecture people on their responsibilities.  That is the kind of talk you get in a dictatorship.”

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, photo from NYTimes.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

I’m not sure what he means by choosing hope over fear, but if he is referring to his election - that he (and fellow Democrats) represent hope over the fear that is allegedly peddled by Republicans - then I think it is a poor description.  As I’ve written before, I do not think there is much difference at all between what the two parties say or do.  Democrats and Republicans are nearly alike.  Neither party has much in the way of principles anymore; pragmatism rules.  I’m glad, though unenthusiastically so, that the Democrats won, for the simple reason that it will be easier to point to their statist policies as the reason for their failure.  When Republicans inflict those very same statist policies upon us, the inevitable failures absurdly get blamed on the “free market.”

Getting back to Mr. Obama’s sentence, I think it would be more accurate if he had said, “On this day, we gather because you the voters have chosen style over stodginess, poise over discomfiture.”  John McCain didn’t do himself any favors by putting himself on television or by picking Sarah Palin as a running mate.  And in the end, come to think of it, Obama’s silky smoothness may have been needed only to pummel Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Obama didn’t have to win the election, being able to count on the Republicans to lose it.  President Bush lost the election: strange to say, as he wasn’t even running.

... we proclaim an end to ... the worn-out dogmas.”  “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works... 

This is a perfect expression of the pragmatism that pervades his speech.  Principles are denigrated as “dogmas”; a man who connects two or more thoughts together is scoffed at as an “ideologue.”  Tinkering is the science of the day.  Seizing trillions of dollars of our money, doing a little of this and a little of that, is the method Obama openly boasts of.  “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.  Where the answer is no, programs will end.”  Alas, about the only thing politicians are unwilling to try is the one thing that would save America: to withdraw and leave people alone.

... the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness...

The admirably precise statement of the founders was that all men are created equal.  They did not say that all men are equal, as Mr. Obama said.  The former is a testament of political rights, a guarantee that from birth all men are free to think and act; the latter, a statement of egalitarianism, which negates all rights.  And needless to say, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, to attribute rights to God is to deny them outright.  

Despite these defects, the rest of that particular passage of Mr. Obama’s speech is very good.  He carefully noted that men have a chance to pursue their happiness - it is not guaranteed - and he emphasized earning, productivity, and entrepreneurship.  

But is this not typical of Obama’s rhetoric?  In the same sentence, he manages to placate the right by mentioning God, the left by hinting that everyone will get an equal piece of a collective pie, and even the freedom lovers (where we may still be found), by referring to the Declaration’s “pursuit of happiness.”

[Americans of past generations] saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions...

On its face, this sounds like the President is lauding the greatness of America, but he is actually sneaking in an idea that is the very opposite of American ideals.  His eloquent statement - calculated to inspire - is simply a part of his paean to collectivism. 

America is great precisely because - and only to the extent that - it elevates the individual above the state.  It is a contradiction to proclaim the greatness of America by pointing to the littleness of individual’s “ambitions,” which means: the insignificance of each American’s goals, efforts, and dreams.

It’s simple math.  To say x is greater than y is to say that y is less than x.  What Mr. Obama is literally saying is that each person is smaller - worth less - as a mere individual than he is as a member of a collective.  This is a grotesquely un-American sentiment, uttered by the President in his first ten minutes on the job.

Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished...  Now, there are some who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.  Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve...

All this is true, but Mr. Obama and the millions of Americans watching him would do well to notice that all this achievement and prosperity was created by free people, unfettered by the government.  One can only imagine how much further we would have come without the government seizing ever more power in its “progressive” policies over the last century or so.  Unfortunately, though President Obama can beautifully articulate the reason for productivity - free minds - he does not believe his own words.  He thinks (as do his comrades on the right and left) the solution to every problem, predicaments that were largely created by the government in the first place, is to throw more government at it.  “Our economy calls for action, bold and swift...”

Indeed, it does, Mr. Obama.  The action is: laissez faire!

[E]arlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.  They understood that our power alone cannot protect us...

Well, I agree that power alone cannot protect us; we must also have those “enduring convictions,” as he put it.  This is all too clear today.  There is little doubt that we could militarily obliterate the murderous thugs who kill us with impunity, were it not for the fact that Americans on the whole lack the moral conviction that we are right to defend ourselves.  

However, this is an extremely disingenuous thing for this President to say, considering his political views.  Who has done more to snuff out those “enduring convictions” than left-leaning intellectuals?  Who has succeeded more than the left to make Americans doubt that we are the good guys?

As for “sturdy alliances,” it would be great if other freedom-loving countries supported us.  But a moral country, just like a moral man, must stand alone if necessary.

[W]e’ll work tirelessly... to roll back the specter of a warming planet.

My wife pointed out with some amusement how accurate this statement is (though perhaps inadvertently so), if we take the other meaning of the word “specter.”  A specter is a ghost.  Ghosts don’t exist.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

That is really beautiful and inspiring.  I only wish the man did not contradict such rhetoric with his actual political convictions.

We honor [the American soldiers abroad] not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

This is another expression of the disgusting sentiment I mentioned above: the idea that Americans are greater than “mere” individuals when they consider themselves to be cogs in a great collective machine.

What is required of us now is... [a recognition] that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.  This is the price and the promise of citizenship.  This is the source of our confidence, the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.  This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed...”  [Emphasis mine.]

What, according to the President of the United States, is the meaning of liberty?  Duty.


1.  All quotes are from the transcript of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, Wall Street Journal, 21 Jan 2009, p. R4.

1.  I fixed a minor typographical error.


Mike N said...

Good post! He seems to be pretty good at rhetoric. His pro-freedom statements are tempting but his anti-capitalist statements are more in line with his history.

Stephen Bourque said...

Yes, Mike, I agree. I'm not fooled for a minute by the rhetoric that may be construed as pro-freedom. What really bothers me is that there is no serious intellectual opposition to him. Everyone in Washington - both supporters and opponents of Obama - share the same philosophical underpinnings: service and sacrifice.

If you haven't seen it yet, Edward Cline has written a good post on the inauguration.

The Intellectual Redneck said...

Obama is a "miserable failure"
I must admit that this is sweet revenge. A few years ago tech savvy internet users with Bush derangement syndrome linked President Bushes bio with the Google search term "miserable failure." Now the label has been transferred to President Barack Obama.

Rob Diego said...

If you can't run for your lives, then you must oppose Obama. You are under attack and everything you have will be looted for the sake of those who are part of Obama's collective. Don't worry, by the time they get your money, it will be worthless.

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comments, IR and Rob. So, Barack Obama is now the "miserable failure" and the money seized from me will be worthless anyway.

Somehow, that is not very reassuring!