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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Obama: Notes on the Transition and the Speech

Ideology or power: which is the end, and which the means for Obama? Notes on the transition, the oath, the speech, the prayer, and the new President.

I haven't blogged much since the week of Election Day in November, and when I have done so, I haven't said much about the presidential transition. This was for want of time, not for want of things to say, but there may also be some merit in stepping back and looking for general patterns and trends, rather than trying to comment on every day's new development.

The day-to-day stuff was not entirely interesting, but it was largely predictable. Three surprises stick out in my mind at this point. First, President Obama's decision to keep the incumbent Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, is an encouraging sign, even if I suspect the motives behind the scenes might have been far more political than military. Second, I'm not sure how far down the food chain one has to go in the Obama White House to find someone with significant foreign policy experience; it's further than the President, Vice President, or Secretary of State in any case. But it actually may not be a bad thing if they set about pleasing Europe and our enemies a little less efficiently than more seasoned appeasers might. And, third, I don't know which is more appalling: naming an income tax evader as Treasury Secretary or the Senate Democrats' assurance that it's not a big deal, and they'll approve him quickly anyway.

Some people I know and a lot of people I don't know are worried about socialism. This has been a legitimate concern since the days of FDR and his Great Depression. It's a sensible worry now, because what Obama was selling during the campaign was a soft, social-democratic variety of socialism, which apparently most of the voters liked when they heard it. Moreover, the trend in the last few, panicked months of the Bush administration was towards greater government control of large sectors of the economy, as the price of enormous bailouts. Moreover, it's hard to miss the ties to radical Leftists in President Obama's biography, no matter how hard the campaign and the Big Media Acronyms tried to obscure them.

For all that, I'm beginning to suspect that President Obama thinking is that ideology is his ladder to power. Assuming that my ideology differs from his -- which it most assuredly does -- that's still better for me than the reverse, seeking power in order to advance and impose ideology. I think what he really wants is to be President of the United States as such, not to be President so he can lead us further toward some socialist utopia.

The Oath of Office

I listened to the swearing-in part of the inauguration on the radio. I noticed immediately what has now been widely mentioned, that US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts fumbled the constitutional oath of office, and so did President Obama. The liberal side of the media immediately began to report that Roberts had muffed it, without mentioning that Obama had. Some more even-handed sources noted that they both did. The beauty of it was that it was a bipartisan miscue, so each party could blame the other. Later I looked at the replay, and I thought Roberts muffed it more than Obama.

The thing to do probably would have been to stop, back up, and get it right in the moment. If they really want to get it right, though, they can do it again in a private meeting in the White House or somewhere later.

At the time, I could visualize zealots of various stripes jumping on the little episode as proof that Obama didn't want to take the proper oath because he has grievously unconstitutional plans for us, or that he is illegitimate as President because the oath was muffed, or that Roberts deliberately botched it to delegitimize Obama. For their part, the more-superstitious-than-thou crowd will see it as an ill omen. None of this silliness makes less sense than the half-wits who still claim against all evidence that the Supreme Court stole the 2000 election for George W. Bush, but we may hope that reasonable people take a more reasonable view and spend their time and effort on substantive matters.

The Inaugural Address

We already knew President Obama is a gifted orator. Match his gift with a fine speech writer or two, and the performance quality of his speeches is often very high -- considerably higher than with President George W. Bush, who, though not stupid, is not a gifted speaker, no matter how good his writers. I don't remember a President sounding so good in my lifetime as our new one, except for President Reagan. On the other hand, I've learned that eloquence and wise policy are not necessarily companions.not to associate eloquence with wise policy.

You can read or watch the speech yourself, if you haven't already. For my part, here are a few notes.

More than 90 percent of the speech could have been given by a President of either party. I would have hoped for more praise of freedom than of peace and dignity -- since without freedom peace is useless and dignity is sorely diminished -- and less emphasis on the crucial role of government in taking care of people, but I'm not sure I would have heard what I wanted from a President McCain, either.

Very early in the speech, President Obama said this:

At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.


So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.

In an audience with conservatives in it, this excerpt has either one or two applause lines, depending partly on the speaker's timing. At today's inauguration, this was not an applause line. It tells you something about the crowd. It may tell you something else that there was relatively little applause during the speech as a whole. Perhaps the Leftist ideologues are beginning to sense what I suggested earlier, that power is the goal and ideology the means, not the reverse.

There was no shortage of references to the (mythical) absolute disaster of the past eight years. This is absurd and grossly unjust, but it is neither new nor the least bit surprising. Appropriately, there was less of this than in other recent speeches by Democratic leaders, let alone in the campaign. Where it occurred in the speech, it was much more subtle and, refreshingly, not accompanied by snarling. That's the best we could hope for.

After the Speech

I turned the radio off for the poem that followed, so I will neither comment on it nor report others' critiques. It's not a circumstance in which one expects great poetry, anyway. The prayer that followed was something to behold. It was blatantly racist in a way that only African-American liberals can get away with. In a sense it, too, may have been the best we could hope for under the circumstances.

No doubt a flurry of executive orders will immediately ensue, allegedly to right the ship of state. Some will be good, some bad, and some in gray areas where the President may not actually have authority. When that squall has passed, I think it's time to start stripping away all those now obviously antiquated affirmative action laws and some even more antiquated pieces of voting-related legislation. If an African-American can now grow up to be President of the United States and be elected largely by white voters, I think it's safe to level the playing field.

A Bit of Silver Lining

One of the most destructive cultural forces in the United States in recent decades is an anti-education, anti-male-responsibility strain of African-American urban culture, which not only consigns its practitioners to illiterate, unproductive, anti-social barbarism, but also tries to tear down those who try to escape it. Hence caring about one's education is derided as "going white," or some such thing.

I don't expect to like a lot of Obama's policies, but I hope and frankly expect that the glaring example of Barack Obama rising inside the system -- including the educational system -- rather than outside it will force a large-scale rethinking from within of this part of African-American culture, with very positive long-term benefits for many people.

In this and many other things, time will tell.

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