Change or stasis? Reason's look at first Obama inaugural speech

Later this morning, Barack Obama takes the oath of office for his second term, which he actually did officially yesterday, and will do ceremonially today.  Following the ceremony, a large crowd will hear Obama give his second inaugural speech, but did he fulfill the promise of his first?  Reason takes us back four years to the President’s first inaugural address, and reminds us that the “hope and change” turned out to be “stasis squared”:


“And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Want to bet that today’s speech will be filled with good-government platitudes like this, too, even with the atrocious record Obama had in his first term on deficits and spending? At least Nick Gillespie remembers the first inaugural address.  Andrew Malcolm, not so much. Here’s a bit more that Andrew had to look up:

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“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.”

“Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”


Not much to say on those goals, either, except in how Obama failed.  How many programs came to an end?  And just how has Obama’s foreign policy generated “mutual respect” for the US and the West? We got than answer in Benghazi and Cairo.

Those are both good reasons why I’ll probably skip the live broadcast and follow up via transcript later.  It’s not just Obama, though; I watched his first inauguration live, and I skipped George Bush’s second (of course, I had a different day job then, too, but wouldn’t have watched anyway).   I agree with Bob Schieffer, both in general and specifically to this occasion:

Second inaugurals are always like second weddings. The first time brings excitement, great expectations and fairy tale settings.

The second time, reality sets in, and all involved have learned nothing is quite as easy as once thought.

Even so, I can’t remember approaching Inaugural Week feeling there was less excitement in the air.

The fight over the fiscal cliff was so distasteful and ridiculous, it left me wondering not so much about the possibilities of the next four years, but whether our political system is so broken and our politicians so inept, that they — WE, actually — are no longer capable of solving our problems.

The nation remains deeply divided. The President won reelection but no mandate.

Nor did Congress. Thanks to the power of incumbents to raise money and gerrymandered districts, most of the old crowd has returned, not to great huzzahs but to a Gallup Poll that gives them a 14 percent approval rating, a historic low.


I get the sense this time that it’s like a reunion of your last high-school prom, four years after it first took place.  All the optimism of graduation has been expended, and now we’re coming back for a one-day attempt to tell ourselves that we can start over again, even after electing the same prom king and queen.  That’s a pretty good description of any second-term inauguration, which is why it’s ridiculous to spend $50 million attempting to celebrate it.  With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday falling on the same day, we probably won’t get much news to distract us from it, though, so be prepared to spin the oldies one more time and haul the Hopenchange gown out of mothballs, if only for a day.

However, perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to put on the prom dress or tuxedo.  After all, we have just had another peaceful election in which the people have chosen their leadership, which we have conducted in an unbroken line since the 18th century.  I may not particularly like the choice that was made, but that’s what happens in a functioning democratic republic from time to time.  Perhaps we should be counting our blessings if we find such occasions to be so normal as to be boring, because plenty of people in this world can’t say the same thing.


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