Post-inaugural thoughts

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.)



Filed under Barack Obama, left and right, race

6 responses to “Post-inaugural thoughts

  1. and his prayer with its rhymes and rhythms is very much in the tradition of African-American preaching.

    It’s a reworking of an old verse: “If you was white, should be all right/
    If you was brown, stick around/
    But if you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back””

    He rewrote an old verse that was all about oppression, and made it into a verse about progress and reconciliation. That he changed the verse, rather than repeating it, is the acknowledgment you’re looking for.

    But I doubt he’d agree that Obama being sworn in is a “fulfillment of those hopes”; the election of a Black man as president is a great step forward, but it’s only one step, not a fulfillment of all those hopes of the civil rights generation.

  2. Pingback: Real Clear Politics - News - Elections 2008 - Opinion - Commentary - TIME

  3. Thanks for the clarification about the origins of the verse, Barry! (Even if I still disagree with you on the substance; this would have been a verse about progress and reconciliation 50 years ago.) I thought it sounded familiar.

  4. jerry


    I’d love to read more about your disagreement with Krugman on this. I think I’d disagree with you completely, because well, Krugman is a minor deity in my eyes. But I’d love to hear what you have to say about that. As a renter who lives paycheck to paycheck in a small apartment with a run down car (thanks to divorce inequities in the courts) I’d love to say that I had contributed to the financial meltdown and that my moving out of the apartment into a house with a boat and plane paid for from the bogus rise in prices and the money I could take from the heloc, but I can’t. I and many other renters (and home owners too) watched the financial meltdown in real time but didn’t participate, except in a wistful manner.

    Barry’s clarification is interesting, but his defense lame. “It was changed, therefore you should be okay with the words.” Well, yes, it was changed, but why? 50 years ago, the original words made sense and reflected reality. 50 years later, the changed words make little sense and do not reflect reality. And they certainly do not reflect the reality of that moment on stage. “When white will embrace what is right?” Hey, the facts are that in absolute terms, more whites voted for Obama than black, by a factor of 2.6 (~41M to ~16M). In percentage terms, Obama won more white votes than John Kerry and that whites haven’t voted in the majority for the Democrat since Lyndon Johnson. Sources: wikipedia for the numbers, and the LA Times in this article: Even Jesse Jackson, another MLK marcher has said, ““This proves that an even playing field and equal opportunity works,” Mr. Jackson said of Mr. Obama’s ascension, as he walked on the grounds around the convention hall. “You only have affirmative action to offset negative action. Attitudes have changed, but it doesn’t mean our work is over.””

    Indeed, attitudes have changed. It is a real shame that Reverend Lowery couldn’t recognize that, and inserted an unneeded divisive tone into an inaugural that depended on changed attitudes.

    Lowery is 87, I can understand where he is coming from. Barry is not 87 and his defense is not so much, “change we can believe in”, but “same-old same-old (Barry).”

  5. Revenant

    I don’t doubt the origins of that, um, “poem”, but it immediately reminded me of “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down” — the toilet water conservation rhyme that crops up occasionally during droughts. The yellow/mellow thing is what did it.

    Anyway, I don’t find it “oversensitive” for white people to take offense at the idea that white people doing the right thing is something that hasn’t happened yet — something we need to work towards, rather than something I’ve done all my life. If a white President said “we ask you to help us work towards the day when black Americans embrace what is right” every editorial page in America would have a cartoon of him in Klan robes by the end of the week. Which is particularly ironic when you consider that white Americans are, on average, less anti-Semitic, less biased against other races, more tolerant of gays, more law-abiding, more likely to stick around and raise the kids they father, et al.

    Nobody likes to be told they they need to change their ways and do the right thing when they’re already good and decent human beings.

  6. Just a quick reply to Jerry (working on a rush project, unfortunately): obviously, I don’t think that “collective responsibility” means that every single person is at fault. But there were a lot of people who lived — and bought houses — beyond their means, and the fact that the banks tempted them with cheap mortgages doesn’t, in my opinion, entirely excuse them.

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