Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"A New Era of Responsibility"

President Obama has just finished his Inaugural Address. My snap judgment: if the content of the speech was not just grandiose pablum, it seems he is modeling his presidency after FDR's. When you cut through the fluff, there are some frightening passages in there:
Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
Read: free-markets have failed. What is this new age he is referring to? Your guess is as good as mine, but we can be sure that it doesn't involve more freedom.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
True, but the wellspring of this collective neurosis has mainly been left-of-center media outlets like the New York Times.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.
Read: interventionism. Hardly a "bold" and "new foundation," interventionism is the stale status quo that, except for a brief period of time in England and America, has dominated human history.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
I guess this is addressed to persons like me. The problem is not "too many big plans," but economic planning, as such. I'm not sure what he is referring to with the "short memories" remark, probably the New Deal. (Which, by the way, most economists think prolonged the Great Depression.)
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.
Obama smears those who disagree with him by calling them "cynics." He says, "the political arguments of the past no longer apply." Because the debate is over? Because Obama has been proved right?
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
So much for the end of "the era of big government." As if it ever ended.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
There's all you need to know about Obama's economics: regulation, intervention, spending, redistribution. The only way you can achieve these goals is through taxation or by firing up the printing presses. Obama's invoking of the "common good" is telling: as a student of history, he knows that the "common good" has been used as the justification for the greatest evils.
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
Here's the payoff: sacrifice and duty, the ethics of altruism and deontolgy. Obama is getting us ready for the pain.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
Obama turns it around here, and claims that sacrifice and liberty are corollaries. They are not. It is unfortunate that he included that line in an otherwise poignant moment in his speech.

Rhetorically, the address was a patchwork that nodded to Bartlett's: Washington's Farewell, Lincoln's Second, Roosevelt's First, and King's "I Have a Dream" ("let it be said by our children's children"). As such, it lacked an identity of its own. It was self-conscious and disjointed.

It wasn't all bad, though. As I mentioned above, the speech was poignant when it acknowledged the history of the moment. Also of note, Obama mentioned that we are a nation of "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and
non-believers." [Italics mine.] Talk about a historic moment. His tribute to "the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things" seemed perfunctory, but it was still nice to hear. As was this hawkish passage:
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
The fawning media have been expecting a "masterpiece" from Obama. I suspect their reactions won't deviate too far from their expectations. For those of us who still love liberty, we have to wait and see if Obama's words were those of empty grandeur, or of warning.