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Rich Lowry: President Obama's re-founding

BY RICH LOWRY Published: January 23, 2013
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In a clear slap at Republicans, Obama declared, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” This smacks of hypocrisy from a politician who gleefully mocked Mitt Romney in the general election and questions the motives of his opponents as a matter of routine. In Obama's mind, though, there is no contradiction. As obstacles to the togetherness that defines America, Republicans are burdened with the taint of illegitimacy.

A brazen performance

For all their obsession with the founding, he is saying, it is they who represent a break with the American tradition. For all their accusations that he is a radical, it is they who are the extremists. He gives them the implicit choice of getting with his program or getting run over.

All of his bows to modesty were formalistic. He mentioned “outworn programs,” without even promising to eliminate any. He said we have always had a suspicion of central authority, but of course he didn't endorse it. He said we don't have to settle the debate over the size of government once and for all, while insisting that we keep expanding it on his own terms.

All in all, it was a brazen performance, as audacious in intent as it was banal in its expression. He used the Founders' authority to advance an expansive conception of American government that would have been unrecognizable to them. Amid the pomp and the circumstances, Republicans should have heard a direct challenge. The president did them, and everyone else, the favor of enunciating the battle lines and the stakes of the fights to come.

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