The Undiscovered Country

Some thoughts on Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. First, while I really didn’t pay much attention to his first – as a rule, most of these addresses are little more than over-the-top, prose-laden fluff that don’t go any further than the steps of the Capital building once they’re finished – I was impressed by this one. I found myself saying, something’s different here.

For close to four years now, many of us progressives were wondering when this hope and change president would actually fulfill the expectations we all had when he was first elected. To say we’ve been left at the altar would be putting it mildly.

Funny, for someone who admired Abraham Lincoln so much, Obama spent most of his first term looking more like Monty Hall than a transformational leader.  Whether it was the stimulus bill or healthcare reform, the man negotiated, more often than not, from a position of weakness rather than strength.  He was far too pragmatic for his supporters’ tastes and way too accommodating to his adversaries, who, let’s be honest, had their way with him on more than one occasion.

But last Monday afternoon, on the steps of that very same Capital building where he was sworn in as the nation’s 44th president four years ago, this Barack Obama sounded anything but familiar. No, he didn’t suddenly become FDR or JFK or even his alter ego Lincoln.  In retrospect, it was naive of us to believe he could be any of those presidents. Our expectations notwithstanding, what we got was a fairly competent and mature president, warts and all, who was considerably better than the available option in 2008, or 2012 for that matter.

But the question that all of us had – and still have – is whether Obama’s second term will be any better than his first. Based on what I heard and saw, I’d say the answer is an unqualified yes.  Because there was something not just in the words of that speech but in the inflection as well that made me think that quite possibly for the first time since that November evening in ’08, the real Obama was out for all to see.

After four years of taking it on the chin and having to worry about what the next poll might say, he finally decided to let his hair down so to speak and serve notice “to friend and foe alike,” as Kennedy so profoundly put it 52 years ago, that there was a new sheriff in town – the same new sheriff, mind you, that had been there the last four years.

If you were a Republican looking for signs of conciliation, you were wise not to hold your breath. There wasn’t any, nor should there have been. After four years of trying to find some common ground from which to govern, only to have it thrown back in his face, the man ostensibly told the other side of the political aisle to kiss his ass.

The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

Put that in your pipe, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and choke on it.  There’s something about not having to run again that does wonders for a reluctant liberal. And up until this past Monday, Barack Obama was ONE reluctant liberal. It was both refreshing and reassuring to know that he could deliver such an eloquent speech so effectively and with such passion.

But it wasn’t just the defense of entitlements that caught my attention. He took a shot at the global warming deniers, neocons and homophobes who currently control the GOP.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But Americans cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war … We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Senaca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women – sung and unsung – who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughter can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.


And, for good measure, he saved his best jab for the mob of intellectually-challenged nincompoops in the GOP – AKA, the Tea Party – whose idea of cooperation is to hold the entire government hostage until they get what they want; the very same mob who had quite a nice time of it the last four years.

For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

Translation? You took your best shot; you lost; I’m still here. Deal with it! It’s your funeral if you don’t.

I like this Obama a lot. Ever since he won reelection, there has been a swagger in his step. He drew a line in the sand during the fiscal cliff negotiations and, for the most part, got the deal he wanted on his terms. He made it crystal clear he was not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling and forced Republicans to blink. For the first time in four years, they are in retreat and disarray.

The President’s second inaugural address was a less a speech than it was a manifesto. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think it has finally dawned on him that building both sides of a bridge in a vain attempt to reach consensus isn’t a very good way to govern. It’s actually a very good recipe for failure. What he had been doing clearly wasn’t working. He knows that now and he took the better part of that afternoon to explain it and to put his opponents on notice that Mr. Congeniality has left the building. He’ll still seek bipartisan solutions, but if he can’t find a willing dance partner, he has no qualms about flying solo.

If I were a Republican, I’d be concerned for the future of my party. Obama 2.0 isn’t likely to be the pushover Obama 1.0 was. And that spells trouble for them. Despite all the bombastic rhetoric, the voter suppression attempts and the litany of far-right ideologues  who spewed utter nonsense, the electorate saw fit to return Jackie Robinson to office.

Except Jackie Robinson has retired and hung up his spikes. From here on out, the GOP had better prepare for Hammerin’ Hank. He’s got a four-year contract and a ton of fresh bats at his disposal.

Play ball!

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Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

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