Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

January 23, 2013

President Obama's re-founding

For the left, this is what winning looks like. President Barack Obama gave a second inaugural address that just as easily could have been delivered by progressive darling Elizabeth Warren.

If the president didn't repeat the phrase that Republicans threw back at him so often during the 2012 campaign - "you didn't build that" - the speech was a meditation on the same theme of the limits of individual action. The address was a paean to collectivism, swaddled in the rhetoric of individual liberty and of fidelity to the founding.

He began and ended with the Founding Fathers and threaded the Declaration of Independence throughout. This gave the speech a conservative sheen. He used the words "timeless," "ancient," "lasting," and "enduring." He sounded like Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in invoking "what makes us exceptional," namely "our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago."

But this framing of the speech only served to amplify the ambition of President Obama's larger political project. He hopes to reorient the American mainstream and locate conservatives outside it. He wants to take the founders from the right and baptize the unreconstructed entitlement state and the progressive agenda in the American creed.

In Obama's telling, the high points of our national life are found in collective action, in the growth of government, in teachers trained and roads built. "Now, more than ever," he declared, "we must do these things together, as one nation and one people."

He presented his agenda as the logical consequence of the Declaration of Independence's enunciation of the equality of all men and our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For Obama, that means equal-pay legislation, gay marriage, and amnesty for illegal immigrants. He included a long passage on the necessity of fighting climate change with transformative energy policies. "That's what will lend meaning," he said, "to the creed our fathers once declared." (One wonders what Thomas Jefferson would have made of the argument that his handiwork is meaningless absent federal subsidies for the likes of Solyndra.)

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