The speech: The best inaugural address since Ronald Reagan, says Thomas Sowell. That’s pretty high praise. “A fine speech,” says Michael Goldfarb on The Weekly Standard blog, particularly impressed by Obama’s emphasis on the role military force has played in maintaining American democracy. Ron Radosh likes the speech too, while The New Republic‘s John Judis doesn’t (particularly the overly Bushian “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”) and neither does Paul Krugman, who thinks Obama’s assertion that we’re all collectively at fault for the economic mess we’re in is a cop-out. (I couldn’t disagree more; I’m glad it was said in so public a venue.) This is not to say that Obama is generally making a better impression on conservatives — at least, those of a neoconservative bent — than liberals, but he certainly continues to confound expectations.
Incidentally, Jonathan Last at the Standard blog thinks that Obama’s reference to “worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics” was a potshot at conservatives, but Ron Radosh thinks it was a reference to dogmas of both right and left (notably, Judis disliked it). I’m inclined to agree with Ron, since at least so far, if the Obama presidency has an ideology, it’s trascendence of ideology. Take this passage:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
The idea that the size of government doesn’t matter is a bit disturbing to those of us who believe in limited government. Taken to an extreme, it could be read as “it doesn’t matter if the government controls 100% of the economy as long as it works well.” (There it is, the dreaded “Obama the socialist” meme!) However, what Obama said is also not that different from Matthew Continetti’s editorial in The Weekly Standard:
Sorry, folks. The lesson of the last eight years is not that Americans want a smaller government. It’s that Americans recoil at what appears to be an incompetently run government out of touch with the major challenges of the day. Your average voter doesn’t mind government action if he deems it necessary to pursue a public good like national defense or supporting retirees. He votes for the party that has the most compelling program for the future, not the one simply trying to stand athwart it.
The benediction: Conservative radio talk show host and columnist Jane Chastain thinks that all right-thinking people ought to be “enraged and insulted” by the benediction given by the Rev. Joseph Lowery at the inaguration — specifically, by its conclusion:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around,when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.
So much for healing and ending racial division, says Chastain: it’s all about blaming the white man! Apparently, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough also took offense; on the Washington Post blog “On Faith,” my friend Susan Jacoby chides them for being too sensitive. I think Chastain’s rant is a bizarre overreaction; but at the same time, I think it’s a bit disappointing that on the day of the inauguration of our first (post-racial) African-American president, the benediction struck such a backward-looking note in terms of race relations. I realize the Rev. Lowery is 87 years old, a veteran of the civil rights struggle, and his prayer with its rhymes and rhythms is very much in the tradition of African-American preaching. His verse gives voice to the hopes of generations. But, sadly, there was no acknowledgment of the fact that the event at which Lowery was speaking was a fulfilment of those hopes.
The silliest flap of all: The flubbed oath. So much for post-partisanship: some conservative blogs and talk shows gloat about Obama flubbing the oath of office (see this post by “a Midwestern Conservative Christian” for a bad case of Obama Derangement Syndrome), while the Huffington Post headline reads, “Justice Roberts Flubs Obama Oath of Office” and some commenters actually suggest Roberts did it on purpose. Meanwhile, Jacoby thinks it’s “disgusting” that Chief Justice John Roberts messed up the solemn moment by reading the oath incorrectly. (Actually, it’s pretty clear they were both at fault: Obama jumped in too soon with the “I, Barack Hussein Obama,” which probably threw Roberts off his rhythm somewhat, and Roberts then messed up the order of the words.) And over at The American Thinker, some thinker reads either ignorance or poor moral character into the fact that Obama said he was the 44th man to take the oath of office when he was actually the 43rd. (Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States; you learn something new every day.)