MSNBC bloviator Chris Matthews, he of the famous tingle up the leg, summed up Monday's inaugural address by President Obama. "It reminds me of another second inaugural, Lincoln's, so much of Lincoln in that speech, from the Gettysburg Address to the second inaugural itself."
Now, inaugurations are, by nature, a day of lofty rhetoric. The peaceful passing of power, or maintenance of power, in this case, does, in fact, set the U.S. apart from most nations on Earth. And presidents, as they have for more than two centuries, strike out to capture the essence of America — its resilience, humility, optimism.
But the Gettysburg Address — delivered when the U.S. was on the brink of tearing itself apart — is, and always will be, unique. There can never be another such address, nor should we wish one. In those terse 278 words, a beaten and exhausted President Lincoln captured the very soul of America — her fears, her strengths, her humility, her reliance on the greater power of God.
Of course, Mr. Obama set out to do the very same. Yet his 2,107 words turned out to be words of discord and distemper, a lengthy lecture to the half of America that opposed him Nov. 6, 2012, and an arrogant wink of the eye to the half that supported him.
He opened with praise for "the enduring strength of the Constitution… the promise of our democracy." But from the outset, his words rang hollow. Is not he the man who has repeatedly berated the members of Congress and sworn a hundred times to thwart the very democratic structure set out by the founders? Did he not say shortly after his re-election: "Where Congress is not willing to act, we're going to go ahead and do it ourselves"?
From there, he launched into a litany of the glories of government, paying lip service to his plan of expanding the federal reach by saying America has never "succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone." No, he said, "Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character."
But they were not throughout his first term, or his campaign. "You didn't build that" was a cornerstone of his campaign rhetoric, and he targeted anyone who had succeeded in America — remember, still Americans — as selfish and evil. Under his eye, America has become a nation of victims: food-stamp rolls have exploded, those demanding federal aid as "disabled" has doubled, Obama voters sang the praises of the free "Obama phone." Always, it was someone else's fault; the reason you DON'T have is because he has too much!
Attempting to grasp a bit of Lincolnian depth, Mr. Obama started numerous segments of his speech with "We, the people …" As in: "For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it." But that misses the very point of America: Here, there is the freedom to succeed — not a guarantee. Some will thrive, others will fail. Long ago, hard work drew respect for one's success; now, under the Obama ideology, the successful are the "1 percent" that deserve our scorn and hatred.
Like the small-minded man he is at heart, Mr. Obama rolled into another attempt to sell his health-care program, castigated those who "may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science" of the scientifically spurious global warming claim, and finished with a flourish on the issue many Americans find paramount — sustainable energy.
Then, as he has done since Day One, he set out to separate us — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, no less — into creeds and colors and sexes and sexualities. "Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts… our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law… until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote."
But his greatest passage targeted all of those who do not wish to walk lockstep with him, who oppose his policies on principle alone. "We cannot," Professor Obama lectured, "mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
In his last press conference of his first term, just days ago, Mr. Obama foamed at the mouth over Republicans in the House and Senate, who he said wished to hold the economy for "ransom," threatened to "crash" the U.S. economy," were (here's that term again) "absolutist" and "consumed with partisan brinkmanship."
So, no, Mr. Obama's second inaugural speech was no Gettysburg Address. It was simply another chapter is the petty partisanship of Barack Obama — and more reason that he is destined for the dustbin of history. But one passage of the first Republican's address does ring true: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here …"
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.