President Barack Obama's critics are shocked, shocked to hear him sound in his second inaugural address like what he is, a liberal progressive. One wonders what they expected.
What happened to jobs, they ask? What about the deficit? The budget? The debt ceiling? The dangerous world overseas? Why didn't he reach out, some ask, with more soaring rhetoric and bipartisanship as Abraham Lincoln did in the gold standard of second inaugural speeches, to bind wounds with the warring Confederacy?
In other words, how dare he wage a vigorous defense of what he really believes?
The problem with that critique is that it requires more than a little amnesia about the debate this country has been having over the past couple of years about the role of government.
I'm all in favor of bipartisan outreach. But there's an important difference between, say, Obama's current situation and that of Lincoln's time.
When Lincoln reached out “with malice toward none, with charity for all” to “bind up the nation's wounds” and “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace,” the Civil War was in its last days. Today's polarized political debate is only entering a new phase.
Compared with the feverish tone of last year's presidential campaign, Obama's speech on the brink of his second term was only clarifying the differences between his goals and those who would like to stop him.
After all, when he called out those who “deny the overwhelming judgment of science” on climate change or refuse to allow love to be “equal” or seem to promote “perpetual war” or oppose the right of women to “earn a living equal to their efforts,” he wasn't talking about all Republicans.
And when he spoke of those who believe that Medicare and Social Security “sap our initiative” and would leave some people to spend their “twilight years … in poverty” and reserving freedom “for the lucky,” he wasn't talking about all conservatives.