The ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl said he felt like he was watching a “Democratic Ronald Reagan” when President Obama delivered his second inaugural address yesterday. An interesting point.
Just as Reagan presented a “shining city upon the hill” where our founders’ (actually John Winthrop) built a national character on the ideal of individual sacrifice and initiative, Obama's speech was an unapologetic ode to liberalism, to the notion that collective action is necessary to secure individual freedoms and that the work of our founders’ in securing “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is still very much in progress. These competing interpretations of our founder's creed are at the heart of our political divisions.
Occasionally, our nation tilts to one definition of its past versus the other, as it did in FDR’s time or in Reagan's, but not for long. These differences between liberals and conservatives are profound and there is increasing evidence that they are determined by different brain structures. But could we be witnessing a moment of liberal ascension in the United States once again?
In this morning’s post, Ed suggests Obama's philosophy is a dead sea scroll and that 2014 will see the triumph of conservatism once again. But I'm not so sure. There are at least two factors suggesting we may live a little longer in the Age of Obama. First, and not given enough attention, is that our economy seems finally to be achieving a real recovery. Housing starts are up significantly; unemployment claims are trending down; and 401(k)s are at an all-time high. All these factors will, of course, help our lower our deficits, further adding to the sense of recovery. So the conservatives best arguments are getting weaker. Moreover, the Republicans remain beholden to a mischievous and self-destructive band of conservatives who will paint the party into an extreme corner on issues like gay marriage, gun control and immigration, further alienating moderates. (Again, this mirrors what happened during Reagan's tenure where Democrats lost a whole generation of voters.)
Obama looked wistfully out at the crowd gathered on the Mall yesterday to witness the inaugural festivities, and remarked, “I’m not going to see this again.” No, he won't, but he may be on his way to being remembered as a consequential president.