Obama's address long on audacity, short on hope

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  • Commentators both left & right agree that Obama's second inaugural speech Monday was highly partisan @MichaelBarone

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  • President Obama made more references than in many inaugural speeches to specific programs and policies.

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  • President Obama’s second inaugural speech had lots of audacity, but not much hope. @MichaelBarone

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Commentators both left and right agree that Barack Obama's second inaugural speech Monday was highly partisan, with shoutouts to his constituencies on the left and defiance of his critics on the right.

Obama quoted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and made brief reference to Lincoln's sublime second inaugural ("blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword"). But there was not much in the way of "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

There were more references than in many inaugural speeches to specific programs and policies. One interesting question is what the practical effect they will have in the next few years.

"We reject the belief," Obama said, "that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future." Later in the paragraph, he specifically mentioned Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Practical effect: No entitlement reforms in the next four years. House Republicans can pass budgets with long-term Medicare fixes, but they aren't going anywhere.

That's quite a difference from 16 years ago, when Bill Clinton pursued serious entitlement reform with Newt Gingrich.

"I see the current American Left as rapidly losing what it once knew about the need for entitlement reform," economist Tyler Cowen writes on his Marginal Revolution blog.

"I see it happening right under my nose, day by day, article by article, blogpost by blogpost." And in Obama's second inaugural.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change," said Obama, citing anecdotal evidence of unusual weather. Put this in the category of soothing a constituency that's not going to get what it wants.

Democrats were unable to get a cap-and-trade bill through the Senate when they had a 60-vote supermajority. They won't get one through either house in the next two years.

"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries." Another shoutout to green Democrats.

Obama regulators may stymie the booming hydraulic fracking industry. But Congress isn't going to fund half-a-trillion-dollar "green jobs" boondoggles like Solyndra.

"Security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war." No, they don't, and it looks like American troops will leave Afghanistan, as they did Iraq, under terms that give the bad guys leverage they didn't gain in conflict.

But otherwise, we will lead from behind, as we did in Libya and may be doing in Mali, with unfortunate collateral damage like the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi and American hostages in Algeria.

"The love we commit to one another must be equal, as well." This was preceded by a graceful reference to Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, in which Americans protested government deprivations of different rights.

But the next day, the Obama White House admitted that same-sex marriage is an issue for the states, where it's been making progress. It's not clear the federal government can do much to help.

The courts may overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Bill Clinton), which allows the federal and state governments not to recognize some states' same-sex marriages. But Congress is unlikely to give same-sex marriages equal status in tax or other laws.

"A better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants." Here Obama did suggest one measure that could get bipartisan support, calling for "bright young students and engineers [to be] enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."

There's a powerful argument that we should tilt our system, as Canada and Australia tilt theirs, toward high-skill immigrants.

"We cannot," Obama said, "treat name-calling as reasoned debate." Yet Obama does this constantly.

Perhaps he just feels that since Republicans are slime who want old people and children to starve, saying so is just stating an obvious fact. It may not occur to him that not everyone feels that way.

"An economic recovery has begun." That was all Obama had to say about the macroeconomy. Ways to increase sluggish economic growth? Nada.

Obama did increase the size and scope of government in his first term, through stepped-up spending and Obamacare.

Now, beginning his second term he is freer to enunciate liberal principles but seems content with stasis going forward. No entitlement reform, soothing words for greens and gays, disdain for Republicans, leading from behind abroad, maybe immigration reform.

Lots of audacity, not much hope.

Michael Barone, The Examiner's senior political analyst, can be contacted at [email protected] His column appears Wednesday and Sunday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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