Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama's Second Inaugural

Obama's Second Inaugural Address today was a solid, inspiring speech. And one that sounds like a Democratic President claiming a mandate after winning a solid majority for re-election.

What's most important, of course, is whether he governs that way. But to the extent the Inaugural Address declares his actual intentions for the second term, it's a good sign.

There were awesome musical performances from Kelly Clarkson (Watch Kelly Clarkson Sing 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' at Inauguration PBS Newshour 01/21/2013)...

... and Beyonce (Watch Beyonce Perform the National Anthem PBS Newshour 01/21/2013)

I was particularly glad to hear him straightforwardly defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid without any of the Grand Bargain equivocations that we've heard from him far too often. He even combined it with a short shot at the reactionary makers/takers meme, known as "producerism," which seems to have become the Republicans' favorite way to sneer at people to whom they feel superior:

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. (Applause.) They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. (Applause.)
In general, the emphasis on combating inequality in this speech was encouraging.

And even though his speech was an appeal to national unity and solidarity, he spared us his usual no-red-America/no-blue-America "postpartisan" wishful thinking.

More important than the content of the speech, we can hope that he follows the lesson described by Joe Conason in Showing Resolve, Obama Pushes Republicans Toward Surrender National Memo 01/19/2013, which is that taking a strong stand against the intransigent Republicans can yield better results than trying desperately to compromise with them: "The Republicans still mutter threats about the budget, but their slow-motion surrender resulted directly from a growing perception of Obama’s resolve. He should continue to stare them down, unblinking, unless and until they abandon the Tea Party tactics of obstruction and blackmail." Or, as he put it on Twitter (01/20/2013), "Congratulations, Mr. President. Now don't back down."

Conason overstates in saying that "since Election Day, he has remained consistently decisive." Obama offered cuts to both Medicare and Social Security during the contrived "fiscal cliff" crisis.

Ari Melber praises the progressive tone of the address in Obama’s Unusually Direct Inaugural Address Tumblr 01/21/2013. He, too, took note of Obama's defense of Social Security:

When the President sought to counter attacks on Social Security, he embraced the program explicitly, crediting “Social Security” among the “commitments we make to each other.” That’s a sharp contrast from Obama’s first inaugural. Then he spoke only of providing “a retirement that is dignified” for the elderly — language designed to elide, rather than confront, the political fault lines over government assistance.
Although Social Security is viewed by many of the One Percent and their ideological fans as "assistance," it's actually an insurance program funded by participants' tax contributions. But Ari's point is well taken.

Rick Perlstein voices a concern in a Facebook post of 01/21/2013:

I'll just come out and say it: the juxtaposition of MLK and BHO makes me supremely uncomfortable. King WANTED to piss people off. He was glad to do be non-accomodationist. Yes, once he planted his flag for a goal--say open housing in Chicago--he certainly participated in the normal give and take of politics. But his next move, always, was to articulate radical dissatisfaction with that accomodation, and figure out a way to radically challenge people some more. Chicago was his greatest (and first real) disappointment. It was immediately followed by his most radical act: calling America the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. When that resulted in his ostracization from Establishment circles, his next move organize to flood the capital for a general strike of the poor, "to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street, and say, 'We are here; we are poor; we don't have any money; you have made us this way; you keep us down this way; and we've come to stay unless you do something about it,'" because "the lives, the incomes, the well-being, of poor people everywhere in America are plundered by our economic system."
African-American activists are also getting more restless at the President's benign neglect of issues especially important to their community, as Janell Ross reports in Obama Needs A Plan To Help Black America, Say Activists, Economists 01/18/2013:

The Black America that views Obama as its president, that helped to make him America's president, has a list of critical concerns and priorities -- many of which are shared with the nation's fast-growing Latino population. Together, these are the people who are struggling hardest to make ends meet, whose grasp on a stable middle-class life remains the most tenuous and to whom the economic recovery has been the least kind. ...

Even a cursory list reveals troubling facts: Blacks and Latinos disproportionately attend subpar schools, are taught by the least-qualified teachers, face sky-high incarceration rates and suffer from low levels of health care coverage.
Obama's brief but elegant appeal to achieving peace and not just threatening war was very encouraging. But the Nobel Peace Prize winner President needs to rethink some of the more warlike aspects of his own foreign policy, the drone war in particular.

Glenn Greenwald takes note of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s stand for international peace in MLK's vehement condemnations of US militarism are more relevant than ever The Guardian 01/251/2013. Though part of me always cringes at the notion of "national character," Glenn strikes an important note and one discordant to the celebratory tone that obviously goes with every Inauguration:

Barack Obama's grand inaugural ceremony will take place today on the holiday memorializing King's birthday. Obama will always be linked in history to King because his election (and re-election) as America's first African-American president is, standing alone, an inspiring by-product of King's work on racial justice. But this symbolic link has another, less inspiring symbolic meaning: Obama's policies are a manifestation of exactly the militaristic mindset which King so eloquently denounced. Obama has always been fond of invoking King's phrase "fierce urgency of now", yet ironically, that is lifted from this anti-war speech, one that stands as a stinging repudiation of the continuous killing and violence Obama has spent the last four years unleashing on many countries around the world (Max Blumenthal suggested that Obama's second inaugural speech be entitled "I have a drone").

What I always found most impressive, most powerful, about King's April 4 speech is the connection he repeatedly made between American violence in the world and its national character. Endless war wasn't just destructive in its own right, but is something that ensures that America's "soul becomes totally poisoned", fosters "spiritual death", perpetuates the "malady within the American spirit", and elevates "the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them." In sum, to pursue endless war is "to worship the god of hate" and "bow before the altar of retaliation".

This is the overarching point that drives our current debates about war and militarism through today. The debasement of the national psyche, the callousness toward continuous killing, the belief that the US has not only the right but the duty to bring violence anywhere in the world that it wants: that is what lies at the heart of America's ongoing embrace of endless war. A rotted national soul does indeed enable leaders to wage endless war, but endless war also rots the national soul, exactly as King warned. At times this seems to be an inescapable, self-perpetuating cycle of degradation. [my emphasis]
Finally, I would have preferred to hear more about what the President intended to do to create jobs. Because nobody but he and David "Bobo" Brooks actually care about The Deficit.

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