WASHINGTON – The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of
the Left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was
apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that
Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that
Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none”
ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.
substance was no surprise.
After all, Obama had unveiled his
transformational agenda in his very first address to Congress, four years ago
(February 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social democratic
manifesto ever issued by a US president.”
Nor was it mere talk. Obama
went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18 percent of the US economy –
after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented
expansion of government spending. Washington now spends 24% of GDP, fully
onefifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.
were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now
that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural
It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s
pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state and (2) expand
it unrelentingly for the 21st.
The first part of that agenda – clinging
zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare
and Medicaid – is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security
was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern
medical technology was in its infancy.
Today’s radically different
demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured,
Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up
the rest of the budget.
As for the second part – enlargement – Obama had
already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday’s inaugural address
reinstated yet another grand Obama project – healing the planet. It promised a
state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s
regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today,
shale gas tomorrow).
The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and
economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to
failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of
experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the
Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any
Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction.
This speech was
spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the
postindustrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) – the crisis of an
increasingly insolvent entitlement state.
On the contrary. Obama is the
apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity.
But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations –
religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum – that are the
glory of the American system.
For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and
state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only
in the shadow of Leviathan.
Put another way, this speech is the perfect
homily for the marriage of Julia – the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen,
coddled from cradle to grave – and the state.
In the eye of history,
Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On
January 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our
problem, government is the problem.” And then succeeded in bending the national
consensus to his ideology – as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic
president declared “The era of big government is over.” So said Bill Clinton,
who then proceeded to abolish welfare.
Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t
abolish entitlements; he preserves the old ones and creates new ones in pursuit
of a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling
social differences are the great task of government.
Obama said in 2008
that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not.
He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton
accepted and thus validated the new Reaganite norm.
Not Obama. His
mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy.
Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and
aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the
Left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the
Charles Krauthammer’s email address is
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