A not so progressive inauguration speech
Jan 21, 2013

A not so progressive inauguration speech

There is a lot of buzz going on, from all sides, that Obama has used his presidential address as some big pivot towards progressivism. The main debate seems to be on whether Obama is just saying some lofty rhetoric, perhaps to try and cement the kind of legacy he hopes for, or whether this is some hint of a change in how he plans to approach policy and politics in his second administration. For the record, even despite the somewhat more aggressive stance of late, I am sadly very much on the former side of that debate. However, both sides seem to be accepting that Obama's speech was indeed progressive.

I don't buy it. I'm sorry, but I don't think that finally joining the other half of America and coming around to the idea that homophobic discrimination is wrong is "progressive". I don't think that recognizing the long established scientific reality that climate change is occurring  and putting a couple sentences about it in his speech is "progressive". And repeating the case for education or the New Deal social programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, is making a case for conserving a long established old status quo, not some progressive leap forward.

Perhaps the most "progressive" statement was a rebuke of perpetual war, but coming from an administration who has continued, expanded and entrenched so much of the Bush era perpetual war machine it is hard to see how he managed to get through the line without guffawing. Of course, in the next paragraph he makes the case for liberal interventionism, precisely the case that has been so often used to justify exactly the kind of perpetual war he was lamenting.

And then there were the six separate mentions of God. Perhaps he has been reading my blog. As I outlined in that post, numerous overt mentions of God is a pretty effective electoral strategy - especially for someone who so many people amazingly believed was a Muslim foreigner. However, the election is now long over. The simple reality is that Americans are not Christians universally, not even close. They don't all believe in the capital G God of Christianity. There are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and, of course, in enormous and growing numbers, all of us who do not believe in any of these deities. A presidential inauguration should not be about proselytizing one specific religion. What is progressive about that?

I don't want or need it to be an aggressive policy speech. I am fine with a Presidential Inauguration being about deference to the enduring institution and the values and principles symbolized by it. It should be about identifying the shared values that bring us together, and Obama did a reasonable job at executing the kind of soaring rhetoric the occasion warrants. However, people have been projecting on Obama since 2008 this idea that he is genuine progressive and not a compromising moderate entirely comfortable with much of the status quo. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, from progressives, and fear (or fearmongering) on the right, that leads people to act as if this speech is something that it wasn't. It wasn't progressive. It was a defense of center-left orthodoxy.

Either way it doesn't much matter as even if it was just dripping with genuine rhetorical shifts, nothing we have seen in four years indicates that we are going to see anything hugely progressive on the policy front in the next four. The main big policy change we are expecting in the future is immigration reform; this was not mentioned in the speech. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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deathbytrolley said...

Good post. Are you by chance a fellow fan of The Young Turks?

I only began to get into US politics toward the end of the Bush Administration, and then go very into it as the 2008 election season was in full swing. I was naive. I was thrilled that Obama won. I didn't expect him to deliver on everything, but I wasn't prepared for such a broad-based, thorough-going carnival of corporatism. I'm far from alone in my disillusionment. I've speculated that a major component of the Obama Legacy will be the conversion of much of a generation of Americans into political cynics. And for inarguable reason.

bazie said...

I have watched TYT on occasion, but I don't know if they share my view or not on this particular issue. It is a good show and Cenk is awesome.

You are certainy not alone about the general tone of the Obama presidency (shared as it is by TYT or myself etc) but unfortunately, many on the "left" still perceive Obama as somene who could do no wrong, forgiving and apologizing for actions that would have sent them screaming for the hills if Bush had done it.

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