Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Analysis - Obama's Second Inaugural Address

The next four years?

A time of progressive greatness. The restoration of durable economic growth, a new era of just peace and the arrival of care for those in need. Or, a disaster for America. A ballooning national debt, a gutted military and the death of personal responsibility. Taking a casual stroll through the twittersphere, it seems liberals and conservatives can agree on only one thing. When it comes to President Obama’s second inaugural address, we disagree.  I’m uncomfortable with this polarity of analysis. For me, as with its varied themes, this address was both good and bad.

Here’s what I thought about each major element.


What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

Spot on. Without true freedom at home, we handicap our ability to preach freedom abroad. Without respect for our fellow citizens, we diminish ourselves. While many conservatives disagree, for me, equality shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Aside from the intellectual hypocrisy of supporting gun owners but rejecting gay couples (both involve the intimate intersection of privacy and individual freedom), there’s a more basic moral issue at stake here. Put simply, in 21st century America, the law must be unchained from hyper-subjective understandings of personal nature. Freedom demands it. As does our national motto, Out of many, one.


No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

True, strong economic growth requires investment. Yet, in asserting government as the cornerstone of America’s economic future, the President is charting a course towards the economic Bermuda Triangle. Higher taxes do not encourage businesses, they alienate them. Excessive regulations do not facilitate entrepreneurial initiative, they restrain it. Exploding deficits do not inspire investment, they repel it. For all the President’s oratory, economic opportunity won’t find fertile pasture in government intrusion.

Climate Change and Energy

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise.

At a basic level, the President is right. Lead or be left behind. However, contrary to the arrogant self-delusion of some, America is leading progress on climate change. Clearly we can do more. But alongside these efforts, we require an energy policy that makes sense in action as well as in words. If he’s serious about energy, he should drop his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Further, he should embrace America’s domestic energy boom and back away from regulatory threats. It would be a grave error to mistake energy advancement and environmental protection as mutually exclusive.

Foreign Policy

We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are na├»ve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.

In this time as in all times, diplomacy is the right preference for resolving our foreign policy challenges. Despite this, though war is no cause for celebration, the pursuit of peace is no easy undertaking. Without teeth, diplomacy is impotent; we cannot cut our way to security. Our adversaries must understand that where necessary, we will oppose them with force. Sadly, for the past four years, the President’s foreign policy has been both confused and contradictory. This needn’t be the case in the next four years.


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.

We can and we should forge a future in which those in need are assisted. However, contrary to the gospel of Krugman, European welfare states offer few answers. We need solutions which arouse social mobility, while avoiding a culture of dependency. We also need to accept that in order to save America from debt catastrophe, serious entitlement reform is necessary. At present, Medicare recipients receive services many times greater in value than the contributions they paid in. To fill the gap, in doubt and debt, America’s young are paying the difference. Suddenly the President’s climate change warning not to ‘’betray our children’’ rings a little hollow. Only by hard compromise can we hope to provide a safety net for future generations. Medicare won’t be much use if it doesn’t exist.


We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

A great line which echoed the narrative of Obama 2008. Sadly, over the past four years, the President hasn’t exactly lived up to these lofty standards. But let bygones be bygones. If the President is willing to cease his demagoguery against Republicans, then Republicans should reciprocate in kind. Ultimately, the historic legacy of American politics is the application of power for positive, unified national purpose. Cognizant of the partisan tempests too long suffered, however hard, we must now try to build common ground.


  1. Regarding your bit on Climate Change. I think you ignore one big reason why the U.S. has cut back so much on C02 emissions, and that is the Great Recession. When the U.S. economy returns to its full capacity, C02 emission will no doubt start to rise. I will concede that the rising use of natural gas (and hence a decline in the use of coal) is a good thing that will provide the U.S. with permanent cuts in C02 emissions. Also the rise in renewable energy is something to look at. However, a lot of work still needs to be done for the long term, a lot more than either of us realize.

    Another minor point. Obama, all things considered, has been pretty good when it comes to low taxes.

    The rest was a fair and insightful analysis on Obama's Second Inaugural Address.

    1. Thanks for your comment Alex. True - that's a good point on C02. However, I still think that the point stands, whatever the reason- our trending is good at the moment.

      I have to say though, I disagree with you on taxes. With Obamacare taxes (corporate penalty), Democrat tax raises in places like California/Illinois and the federal tax increases, I feel that Obama has presided over a tax heavy expansion - without a necessary adjoined entitlement reform. Thanks.