I was not going to comment on President Obama’s second inaugural address until I saw a headline quoting a line from the speech: “We are made for this moment.”
Really? “This moment”—again?
“This moment” was in Obama’s big speech in Berlin as a candidate, when he declared to the “people of the world” that “this is our moment. This is our time.” For what, was never clear and still isn’t. “This moment” was also in his acceptance speech in 2008 and it was probably in his last inaugural. Let’s just say that we’ve heard it before.
I said recently that politics is going to be boring for a little while, but in his second term, Barack Obama is going to be really super boring.
The rest of his speech suffered from the same insufferable sameness. Paths will be long and difficult, “some” may be recalcitrant naysayers, but it will be our generation’s task to carry on, etc., etc., etc.
Within all of this, there was a central idea, but it was—no surprise—one we’ve heard before.
No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
This is the president’s favorite false alternative: either we do things “alone,” or government does them for us “collectively.” What this world view leaves out, of course, is the voluntary cooperation of private individuals, particularly their cooperation in the free market. Which is to say that he excludes from his world view the actual majority of human activity.
But this is the basic false alternative of every Obama speech, and it is the flimsy intellectual foundation of his entire presidency. Individualism and the free market always mean doing everything “alone,” and the only alternative, the only way of doing things “together,” is a giant government program.
That is what “this moment” turns out to be all about: “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.” No seizing moments on your own. You can only seize it if you brought enough for everybody.
That’s his ideological tic, but his rhetorical tic is the whole “this moment” thing, which captures the cheap, repetitive theatricality of a Barack Obama speech. His speeches are never really about their actual content. They are about “this moment.” They are about the self-conscious self-importance of the speaker—and his audience. Of course, every “moment” in every speech cannot actually be historic, but Obama always tries to make his audience feel as if it is historic and important, and that they, too, must be historic and important just for listening. He wants them to feel that when the Stephen Spielberg of 100 years from now makes a movie titled Obama, they will be portrayed by extras.
Which demonstrates that he knows all too well his appeal to his base.
Others have observed before that the role of the policies of the left is not so much to get results—which is why failed government programs are never re-examined—but rather to make college-educated, upper-middle-class voters feel good about themselves and their uniquely good intentions. It is especially meant to make them feel superior to those other people who don’t agree with them—you know, those racist, sexist troglodytes on the right who just want to serve the interests of the super-rich.
None of this is a new observation. It has been an open secret for years. But what struck me today is the extent to which Obama has caught on to this motivation and made it the whole basis for his oratory. He know that his base loves him precisely for the sake of these special “moments,” when he turns on the rhetorical charm and makes them feel as if they are part of a special, unique, unrepeatable history-making experience—again and again and again.
And the rest of us will have to hear about it, again and again and again.
Like I said: it is going to be boring.