If you thought President Obama’s first term was one long, uninterrupted political brawl, the next four years will make that period look tame by comparison.
If you need any evidence for this prediction, Mr. Obama’s in-your-face, second inaugural address is Exhibit A. It was a speech tailored to make the hearts of liberal Democrats beat faster, cheering what some in the Washington news media called “Obama unbound.”
It was a speech that sent an unmistakable message to his party’s base that this time around, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. The gloves are off, these are my issues, and it’s time to pass the rest of my liberal agenda.
His second inaugural sounded more like a State of the Union address, filled to the brim with a bigger-government shopping list — one in which he showed himself to be the liberal leader “that many liberals thought they were getting when they voted him into office four years ago,” writes Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza. “This was Obama unbound. Distill Obama’s speech to a single sentence, and that sentence is: ‘I’m the president, deal with it.”
Granted, his remarks were wrapped up in soothing rhetoric about Americans coming together, and it paid lip service to dealing with the monstrous deficits and debt. This was at its heart, however, a combative declaration for a big-spending, big-borrowing government, armed with a few nasty salvoes aimed at his Republican opponents in the Capitol behind him.
Incredibly, Mr. Obama did not deal with the biggest failure of his presidency: a persistently weak, slowing economy that top economic forecasters say was barely growing by 1 percent in the past three months.
Indeed, there was only a passing, empty reference to a recovering economy that remains chronically sluggish and job-challenged. There were no calls for stronger economic growth, new job creation and critically needed venture-capital investment that plummeted by 10 percent last year.
No fiscal issue is more critical than soaring entitlements that account for a large share of the nation’s trillion-dollar annual deficits. Aside from some duct tape fixes around the edges, though, Mr. Obama says he will fight any serious reforms to preserve these safety-net programs for future generations.
“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.”
The “nation of takers” jab was squarely aimed at House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who has said the country is divided between “takers” (which he puts at one-third) and “makers” — an observation the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee made in the campaign.
That was only one of the attacks Mr. Obama leveled in a speech that declared the political campaign — at least for him — didn’t end on Nov. 6. He took aim at Republicans, whom he characterized as ideologues who were not interested in compromise but only in blocking his agenda.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Mr. Obama said.
It was an especially nasty, uncivil remark directed at the loyal opposition, made on the doorstep of the legislative branch of government. It was certainly beneath the dignity of an inaugural address to the nation, when presidents traditionally call upon all of us to come together on behalf of the common welfare.
It was also a particularly low blow just days after House Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership agreed, in the interests of the nation, to extend the debt ceiling for three months to give Senate Democrats time to adopt a budget that shows they are serious about curbing a $16.4 trillion debt.
Instead, Mr. Obama saw his inaugural event as less of a time for bipartisanship than for demanding action on his political agenda, as if he were still on the campaign stump, running through his wish list. Even his diehard supporters in the news media expressed profound disappointment.