How will conservatives view Obama’s speech?

Liberals had much to celebrate in President Obama's inaugural address, but will anything he said cause conservatives to give him a fresh look?

Maybe I’m having a bad ear day, but President Obama’s inaugural address did not move me much.

Personally, I embrace most of the center-left goals and policy preferences he expressed. None of them were new or surprising. Some liberals were thrilled just to hear him declare them so openly. But I tried to imagine anything Obama said causing someone who didn’t start out with the same goals to give them a fresh look. I’ll wait for evidence to the contrary, but I didn’t hear it.

Obama’s occasional efforts, in the form of an introductory phrase, to reassure any righties who are still listening to him that he is not a card-carrying Bolshevik, inevitably led to a conclusion that he is a collectivist. For example:

We have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

… We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

Or this one:

We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.

I dearly hope that some on the right will make a new, sincere effort to find common ground or ground for compromise that will reduce the gridlock in Washington. But I fear otherwise.

Jonah Gold, writing for National Review, was in the otherwise camp. He translated the formulations above, thusly:

In other words, the old platitudes I just paid lip service to — and which continue to poll well — can now only be realized by embracing their philosophical opposite. In this case, individual freedom through collective action! Progressives have been trying to pull off this bait-and-switch for a century. New challenges are always requiring new responses that always require more government and less fidelity to established constitutional principles.

Charles Krauthammer, providing instant reaction for Fox declared: “This speech today was an ode to big government. It was a hymn to big government.”

Others liked the speech much better, so allow me to quote a couple:

Andrew Sullivan for the Daily Beast:

What he was saying, in other words, is that he is not interested in answering for all time the fundamental question of the role of government — because that question is simply not answerable for all time. We will never answer it definitively. Because it is one of humankind’s greatest and deepest questions. At the same time, we live in a specific time with specific issues and new questions — and the difference between an ideologue and a statesman is that a statesman’s job is not to bang on forever about “freedom” or “equality” in the abstract (we can leave that to Fox and MSNBC), but to make the right prudential judgments in the moment, with limited knowledge, as best he can, in the interests of all of us.

James Fallows at

I was expecting an anodyne tone-poem about healing national wounds, surmounting partisanship, and so on. As has often been the case, Obama confounded expectations — mine, at least. Four years ago, when people were expecting a barn-burner, the newly inaugurated president Obama gave a deliberately downbeat, sober-toned presentation about the long challenges ahead. Now — well, it’s almost as if he has won re-election and knows he will never have to run again and hears the clock ticking on his last chance to use the power of the presidency on the causes he cares about. If anyone were wondering whether Obama wanted to lower expectations for his second term … no, he apparently does not.

Lastly, satirist Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker seems to have a reaction similar to mine, but instead of getting all sad and  pitiful, Borowitz went for what he does best, mockery, pretending to have reaction quotes from Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“My big fear was that the speech would be full of vague platitudes that wouldn’t be helpful to us in plotting against him,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Once he started offering details of what he actually hoped to accomplish, though, I realized we had hit the mother lode.”

Speaker Boehner praised the President for citing such specifics as hiring math and science teachers, building roads, and reducing health-care costs: “Now that we know that’s what he’s got in mind for his second term, we can hit the ground running to stop him.”

“My takeaway from the speech was, if we work hard enough, there’s nothing we can’t keep him from doing,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) praised Mr. Obama for injecting humor into a usually somber address: “I loved that joke about ending political name-calling.”

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/21/2013 - 04:26 pm.

    How will conservatives view Obama’s speech?

    Is that a question that even needs to be asked? Is there any conceivable doubt of the answer?

    The denunciations of it probably were written last month, with just a few blanks to be filled in to show the drafters “listened.”

  2. Submitted by Brandt Hardin on 01/21/2013 - 04:41 pm.

    Bamboozling Obama

    Despite all odds, our President prevailed in gaining re-election. He still has an uphill battle fighting a Red Congress which has blocked his every move in an attempt to squash his goals of bringing the Middle Class equal pay, women’s rights, gay rights and affordable healthcare. The Bush Administration drove our economy into a swift nose dive and Obama is still the patsy. Watch conservative hands paint him in Blackface with a visual commentary of how Barack has been bamboozled at

  3. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/21/2013 - 05:22 pm.

    Fundamental change.

    “For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.”

    Mr. Obama sets up a fallacy and expects people to actually believe it. An armed populace causes the state to perform a cost-benefit analysis. It prevents a government from having an absolute monopoly of armed violence, such that had happened to the subject populations under the communists and fascists of the last century.

    American soldiers had the M1 Garand (semi-auto, .30-06), the M1 carbine (semi-auto, .30 Carbine), the Browning Automatic Rifle (.30-06), and the Springfield (bolt-action, .30-06). Jewish resistance units (militias) probably had Russian Mosin Nagant rifles (bolt-action, 7.62x54R) captured 98K German Mausers (bolt-action, 7.92×57) and various other weapons.

    Congratulations, progressives, he’s your president. If the definition of center-left is collectivism and statism, count me out.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/21/2013 - 08:53 pm.


      ‘Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.’
      The Nazis started as an armed mob, co-opted other armed mobs, and quickly became the government. They were supported by an armed populace, and a weak democratic government was unable to control them.
      The Communists in Russia stood on the side during the Russian Revolution, then once the Tsar was overthrown they then stepped in and ousted the weak democratic Kerensky government.
      Neither is a good precedent for an armed mob constituting a check on an abusive government, since in both cases armed popular movement overthrew democratic governments that lacked the force to control them.

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/22/2013 - 06:45 am.

        re: fallacy

        Mr. Brandon, I don’t really know where to start with your “history lesson”. If that’s what you believe, that’s what you believe.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/22/2013 - 09:48 am.


        ‘Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.’

        And, sadly, so are those who do.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/24/2013 - 12:18 pm.


        The Nazis were also supported by the industrialists in Germany, who were afraid that unions and Communists were going to take over. Until they stepped in Hitler was just a two-bit agitator with no financial backing to buy those brown shirts he so coveted.

        The reality is a couple of guys with M1 Garands (I have several) or AR15s aren’t going to accomplish squat against the U.S. government with tear gas, body armor, armored vehicles, jet aircraft, drones, missiles, and the training to use them. Your average Bubba has high blood pressure, a heart condition, Type II diabetes, asthma, and would likely die of a heart attack trying to hike through the woods. If his own body doesn’t kill him your average troop of Boy Scouts has more tactical training and could take him down with a taut rubber band.

        Good luck with that whole overthrow thing, but that ship sailed with the advent of Tee Vee in the 1950s.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/22/2013 - 10:12 am.

      He’s your president, too

      I’m not sure what you mean by “statism,” but feel free to name for the rest of us any or all the societies that exist, or have ever existed, without “collectivism.” By definition, a society involves “group” more than individual. I know of no societies, past or present, built upon the sad and illogical notions of Ayn Rand.

      Every habitable part of the earth, so far as I know, is subject to some government’s jurisdiction, so “count me out,” while an appealing snippet of protest, is not a viable response to election results you don’t like. Most of the rest of the planet will provide more rules, not fewer, than the usual American experience.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/21/2013 - 09:59 pm.

    Shallow and Boring!

    This speech was very shallow and boring. Thank goodness it was short!!

    I realize that true liberal’s legs tingle with the very mention of the progressive “code words.” These tremors are probably enough to cover critical thinking about the absence of any big ideas or the lack of any themes in the speech that would deal with our biggest problems – debt and spending.

    No one should doubt that Mr. Obama is a true ideologue. His failure to barely acknowledge the huge economic issues that have mortgaged our future is typical.

    Many will disagree with my description that the greatest problems we face as a nation are debt and spending. If so, I am sure you have already embraced the underlining message of the speech – tax and spend. I am sure you will be pleased that the tax and spend agenda will be fleshed out for the fifth time at the Stare of the Union sermon.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 01/22/2013 - 01:06 pm.

      “debt & spending…mortgaged our future…tax & spend”. Ron, you don’t need to watch the president to identify an ideologue, just look in the mirror.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/24/2013 - 04:24 pm.

      Debt & Spending

      As others have pointed out, debt and spending are not the greatest issues we face at the moment. In fact debt and spending are the SOLUTION to the problem.

      Here’s why.

      The biggest problem we’re facing is not enough people are working. People who aren’t working don’t pay income taxes and they don’t buy as many goods and services. Hence tax revenue is down, which contributes to national debt. Get the economy back in order to where it’s humming along again and you’ll see tax revenue increase and the debt decrease.

      Another reason why we have and need debt: in order to put people back to work, someone has to buy something. In the recession that we’ve just come out of, businesses weren’t buying anything and were in fact laying people off in droves. People weren’t buying anything because they were either laid off or afraid they would be laid off. And there are only three sectors to the economy: business, consumers, and…government. The first two weren’t buying anything, so what does that leave? That’s right: the government.

      To put it more boldly, it’s the government’s DUTY to go into deficit spending when the economy tanks. The government buys goods and services from companies so those companies can produce those goods and services, thereby hiring people.

      Right now our economic recovery is fragile, so now is not the time to tackle debt and spending. Once our economy is humming along nicely, then we can take a look at spending, taxes, and revenue and find a combination that will pay off the debt without spinning us into a depression in the process.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/21/2013 - 10:52 pm.

    We the people….

    “We the people of the United States, in 0rder to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”

    “We are all in this together” As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately”

    What else were folks expecting? How many different ways can you say the same thing?

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/22/2013 - 06:27 am.

    Many will disagree with my description that the greatest problems we face as a nation are debt and spending.

    Are they? Or are they the things that drive our spending and our debt? Are we in a situation in which we spend too much generally, but just the right amount on the military, health care and Social Security. And by the way, do we pay too much in taxes in any case?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/22/2013 - 09:23 am.

      Greater problems

      Jobs and a lackluster economic recovery are of far more immediate importance than “debt and spending.” Economic growth will go a long way towards reducing the debt (remember when the federal government ran a surplus? Remember how that wasn’t used to pay down the debt?).

      High unemployment also carries with it a social cost that is greater than a high deficit.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/22/2013 - 09:43 am.

        This is true

        only if you hold to a demand driven economic analysis.
        For the troglodyte supply siders, it’s all about supply; whether there’s a market for increased production is irrelevant to them.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/22/2013 - 07:50 am.

    Multiple versions of a Republican vision for America were presented during the recent election. First, they were rejected by a majority of Republicans, and ultimately the best that the Republicans could come up with was rejected by a majority of voters.

    That’s what happens in a democracy–a choice was made. The Republican executive vision was rejected.

    How shocking to have the winner of the election espouse relatively consistent values through the election to the administration.

    Is there really anyone out there asking, “Why couldn’t he be more like Romney?”

    Face it, the election was a direct rejection of a politician with an “etch-a-sketch” strategy that had an abiding contempt of a sizable portion of the population.

  8. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 01/22/2013 - 08:07 am.

    Obama said the right things, but he’s done that before. I’ll believe it when I see it. If he does intend to go left what can the right do? They turned up the outrage meter to 11 when Obama tried to work with them and tacked to the right; that didn’t work. Now what can they do?

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/22/2013 - 09:13 am.

    Fundamental questions

    Maybe what’s fundamental about government is that it doesn’t have fundamental questions. How many fundamental questions does the constitution answer? And how many of the real biggies did it carefully avoid?

    Is it possible that maybe the basic debate that divides us is that one segment believes that ghere are fundamental questions about the role of government that need to be answered and that the other segment of believes that there aren’t?

  10. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 01/22/2013 - 11:55 am.

    conservative view ?

    After 4 + years of continual obstruction by the right wing element of the so-called ‘conservative’ party, This 75 year old really does not give a damn about how they may view our President’s inaugural presentation to the Country.

    Bi-partisanship be damned in the upcoming decision-making process. The President tried that in his last term and the extremist element of the right, along with McConnell and Boehner, fought that at every turn with their sole goal of stopping his reelection. The image that they give is that they do not give a rat’s rear about improving this Country for the majority of the populace for which they are elected to serve.

    I wish that Obama would pull out all of the stops in this final term….go for what the majority of the people want…go for what the majority of the people elected him for… represent them.

  11. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/22/2013 - 12:34 pm.

    Folks, this was a compromiser’s speech: He is not an absolutist, he will not let the perfect get in the way of the possible, he believes in half-steps to get at least part of the way there.

    He just doesn’t believe that we need to do what needs to be done on the backs of seniors. The deficit problem is not a problem of Social Security and Medicare; it has to do with taxation. I want this President to continue to fight those Republicans who think it’s time to make seniors die in poverty and illness, as they have done for time immemorial until the Democratic New Deal and Great Society.

  12. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/22/2013 - 05:40 pm.

    As opposed to

    “I want this President to continue to fight those Republicans who think it’s time to make seniors die in poverty and illness, as they have done for time immemorial…”

    The Republicans were the abolitionists…remember?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/23/2013 - 09:53 am.

      Republicans WERE abolitionists

      Let’s look at that point a little, shall we? Sure, the abolitionists were in the right and today, we hold them up as heroes and great visionaries. How were they regarded back in the day? Up until about half-way through the Civil War, before abolition became a national goal during war time, they were regarded as dangerous radicals–the Occupy Wall Street of their day. A good, corporatist Republican from 2013 would doubtless be appalled at the abolitionists’ lack of concern for the business interests of slaveholders.

      The Civil War and the 13th Amendment were a long time ago. The Republican Party has evolved. It isn’t the party of Abraham Lincoln, or Charles Sumner, or William Lloyd Garrison anymore. It’s the party that gave an ideological home to Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Trent Lott. It’s the party of the Southern Strategy. It’s the party whose most revered figure could start his presidential campaign with a paean to “states’ rights” in the city where three civil rights workers were murdered, in honor of “states’ rights.” It’s the party whose next successful candidate could use Willie Horton as a rhetorical symbol.

      Yes, the Republicans WERE abolitionists. Look what they did with it.

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/24/2013 - 06:55 am.

        Key words

        “time immemorial…”

        The original statement was, therefore, false. And no, Mr. Holbrook, Republicans are not evil. They are human beings and Americans.

        “A good, corporatist Republican from 2013 would doubtless be appalled at the abolitionists’ lack of concern for the business interests of slaveholders.”

        Hyperbolic, libelous rhetoric.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/24/2013 - 09:39 am.

          Good is better than evil because it’s nicer

          The time immemorial statement was, indeed, false. I was addressing the bloody shirt Republicans still like to wave (if it won’t offend the folks down south, that is).

          Human beings and Americans (remember that one if you should be tempted to demonize leftists) may still hold evil beliefs, or be complicit in evil.

          Hyperbolic? Perhaps. Libelous? Libelous means a statement is false. Will Republicans do anything about modern-day slavery in the service of free markets? Will they support denying China MFN status becuase of the treatment of workers? We could, of course, ask former Senator Grams (R-MN) why he was so solicitous of business interests in the Northern Marianas when they were accused of keeping foreign workers as virtual slaves, but that was diffeerent, right?

  13. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 01/23/2013 - 06:00 am.

    A new government

    Socialism? We’ve tried it to the tune of 16 trillion dollars in debt and rising. It will bankrupt us.
    Capitalism? Requires constant growth. Not going to happen as we continue to run out of stuff.
    Communism? Complete control of the masses just to sustain life itself.
    Where we’re headed.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/23/2013 - 11:04 am.

      Socialism means

      complete public ownership of the means of production.
      Exactly when have we tried it?
      The closest was Truman’s attempt to nationalize the steel industry.
      And as has already been pointed out, the biggest cause of the deficit (I assume that’s what you mean by ‘debt’) is the recession, which is best addressed by putting money in the hands of people who will spend it. That’s what government spending does.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/23/2013 - 03:09 pm.


    I’m not sure who they are anymore. I know a Republican when I see one, and I see a few of them here, but slavish devotion to ideological myths isn’t a characteristic of conservatives. We all know how Republicans will respond, and thus far they have not disappointed us. I think what we need for some conservatives with some intellectual integrity to replace these Republicans, only then could get past this reflexive opposition.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/28/2013 - 09:10 am.

    At first it was on TV

    By now I’m sure they’re watching it on Youtube or maybe some Fox News video.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/28/2013 - 11:11 am.

      Very funny

      I had to read this a couple of times before it sunk in. Monday mornings. Sigh.

      But don’t quit your day job . . . . . . . . .

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