The television coverage of the Obama inauguration revealed a few things that aptly encapsulate our current situation as a nation. In particular they reveal the narrative, the story that Obama has told the nation in running for president. It’s a grand story with easily identifiable heroes, villains, and innocent bystanders.
Before the swearing-in, the ABC anchor and analysts were talking about President Ronald Reagan having said government is the problem, and Clinton saying government is not the problem but it’s not the solution either, "people are" (which of course is one of his most characteristic brilliantly inspiring, entirely meaningless statements, which the analysts failed to note).
The host and analysts then brought the story up to the present, saying that with all the bailouts and whatnot (here I’m trying to convey the sophistication of their rhetoric), clearly today government is not the problem, and that it will be interesting to see whether Obama says that government is an important part of the solution. They then talked longingly of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his inauguration speech threat to take dictatorial powers if Congress did not give him the legislation he wanted.
Thus they characterized the present day as a replay of the early years of the Great Depression. In the current case, they argued, we see a historical progression from excessive liberty and free-market economics implemented since the 1980s, which failed horribly and brought on a crisis, leading to the public’s desire for a benevolent dictatorship led by a thoroughly superior, sophisticated, patrician, modern-day philosopher-king, the Great Obama.
And they presented this as an eminently good thing, even though the “solution” to which they wish to return prolonged the Depression indefinitely and impeded social progress for decades.
As it happens, in his speech President Obama did not directly refer to the historical contrasts between Reagan and Clinton and himself, but he did make plenty of allusions to the issue, coming down firmly on the side of government management and a positive delight in restricting individual liberties:
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.
In this light, it was striking to hear Joseph Lowry’s closing prayer, indicating as it did Obama’s continuing willingness to be openly identified with people who hate white Americans:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest,
and in the joy of a new beginning,
we ask you to help us work for that day
when black will not be asked to get in back,
when brown can stick around,
when yellow will be mellow,
when the red man can get ahead, man;
and when white will embrace what is right.
That all those who do justice and love mercy
It was a rather startling moment but not surprising at all. Obama’s entire appeal throughout the campaign and after has been to energize people who consider themselves outsiders, especially for ethnic, religious, or sexual reasons.
To do so he has fashioned a story of America’s recent and distant past that is brilliantly calculated to inflate these soi-disant outsiders’ sense of themselves and excuse their failures. His technique for accomplishing this has been to blame their unhappy circumstances entirely on the wicked behavior of others, with a special emphasis on white Americans as bearing special responsibility for all the ills of the world and not deserving credit for any of the good.
Throughout the campaign and since, Obama has created a very artful story: poor, simple, goodhearted, charitable-minded Americans working hard to make this a great nation for future generations, but impeded and indeed oppressed and murdered by wicked, greedy, selfish robber barons.
It appears that the president and his advisors intend to take the nation even further down the road of statism and big-government rule in the next four years, and they have fashioned a narrative of history designed to make a great many Americans crave it.
Obama and his team clearly intend to fashion the next four years as a time of grand drama—but it will in fact turn out to be a lurid melodrama.
—S. T. Karnick