Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections

Brian and Tyler have both weighed in here with their fears and reservations about the upcoming administration. Around the Delaware blogosphere [and around the country, I suspect] reactions to the Inauguration and President Obama's speech generally tell you more about the person writing than they do about the new Chief Executive and his government. Social conservatives are still trying to figure out what happened to them; reactionaries see full-blown Stalinist socialism on the march; progressives and liberals see a new and exciting vision of America that is not only post-racial, but apparently post-political as well.

I don't delude myself that anybody is constantly checking in here for my take, and--frankly--I'm still trying to parse all the day's contradictions.

Here are some of the ones that struck me:

President Obama said, "We will restore science to its rightful place" after listening to a prayer by Pastor Rick Warren, a man who has publicly announced creationism, not evolution, produced us, and who believes that people get cancer because of sin.

[I must admit, for all that comes later in this post, my greatest disappointment with this speech is that, as many times he has done so before, President Obama did not choose to include gay Americans anywhere in his speech. I frankly would not raise a word to question his choice of Rick Warren if the President had found it within himself to acknowledge LGBT Americans with the Pastor on the platform.]

President Obama said, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers." I'm not quite sure why he couldn't say the word atheist, given that every survey I've ever read shows far more atheists among American citizens than Muslims and Hindus doubled and then combined.

President Obama said, "Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage." In the next line those who question his plans become cynics, raising the interesting question of whether or not the new administration (like the old one) recognizes the concept of the loyal opposition. It is, perhaps, not that our system cannot tolerate those big plans, but that our constitution may be threatened by their execution.

I'll give him credit for the neatest piece of George Lakoffian reframing in the following paragraph: "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

That stale political argument which no longer applies is the original dynamic of limited government raised by that stalest of politicians (and Father of the Bill of Rights) James Madison: is the primary purpose in framing a government to provide it sufficient power to DO GOOD, or to hem it in with sufficient restrictions to keep it from DOING EVIL? Contra President Obama, I am unwilling as an American citizen to accept the idea that this dynamic has been completely settled by fiat proclamation, and that those who question whether the primary mission of government is to help families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirment that is dignified have now been defined by the new Democratic majority not as American citizens with different ideas, but as cynics, obstructionists, and even racists.

What President Obama has done is embrace a purely utilitarian standard of government: efficiency defines good government, and to question whether the aim of that efficiency is legitimate, or whether that efficiency is a worthy end in itself is being subtly pushed to the side by my overjoyed liberal and progressive friends as somehow hating America, hating my fellow citizens, and wanting people to lose their jobs and starve.

There were things I Iiked about the speech:

I liked the fact very much that he addressed head-on the question of whether we can win the "war on terror" through the expediency of shredding our own Constitution.

I liked the fact that he acknowledged the ability of markets to expand freedom.

I liked the fact that he said we will not apologize for our way of life.

I liked the fact that he reiterated the commitment to withdrawing from Iraq.

In the end, however, as much it remains politically incorrect to do so, I continue to have nagging questions about the distinction between people who rely utterly on the market to resolve all problems and the people who have the same faith in government.

Over the past two decades we have seen a fundamental agreement between the Democrats and Republicans we send to Washington DC: they both love the power of legislation, regulation, and taxation--literally without restraint--in the pursuit of their own social agendas.

I want government to leave me (and you) to pursue our own personal agendas, without drowning my children in the ocean of bad debt we continue to underwrite.

I can almost hear it from the minarets:

There is no God but Keynes, and Krugman is His prophet.

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