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LAMBRO: ‘Obama unbound’

Listeners turn thumbs down to inaugural speech

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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.

"What followed was less an inaugural address for the ages than a leftover campaign speech combined with an early draft of the State of the Union address," writes The Washington Post's liberal-in-residence, Dana Milbank.

If anyone still thinks Mr. Obama's divisive, class warfare assault on the wealthy ended on Election Day, he served notice that he's just getting started: "We the people understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," he said. Maybe that's because they cannot find a job in his never-recovering jobless economy.

We must "make the hard choices to reduce ... the size of our deficit," he weakly acknowledged. "But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future." By "investing," he means more federal spending.

What followed was a legislative wish list that hit all of the political hot buttons in the liberal coalition: climate change (an issue that failed in Congress when his party controlled both chambers), still more spending on green-energy public works projects (after he lost billions of tax dollars on bad investments that went bankrupt), and calls for still more infrastructure spending as he clings to the failed belief this will turn the economy around. It hasn't.

Peppered throughout his speech were preaching-to-the-choir references about homosexual rights, voting rights, civil rights, gun controls, protecting the environment by spending a lot more on renewable energy, and helping the poor with more social-welfare spending programs.

Mr. Obama also talked about "equality" and "opportunity" for poor and struggling Americans. Yet the irony and tragedy is that his tax-and-spend policies have produced record increases in poverty and nowhere near the number of full-time jobs needed to put America back to work.

The man who talked confidently of "hope and change" offered neither in his first term. "That messiah never came, and a sluggish economic recovery overshadowed his term ... . Most Americans still think that the country is headed in the wrong direction," Mr. Milbank writes.

The only thing Mr. Obama has to offer this time around is more of the same empty, partisan rhetoric for four more years.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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