Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama's Victory Speech

President Obama's rhetoric was at its soaring, inspiring best in his re-election victory speech. (Prepared text: Remarks by the President on Election Night dated 11/07/2012.) Here is the PBS Newshour video of the speech 11/06/2012:

Obama's speeches, especially key ones like this, are worth a close reading. One thing that strikes me is that it's very much like his famous 2004 no-red-America-no-blue-America speech. For example, these lines from the victory speech last night:

... we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.
In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.
... we are an American family, and we rise or fall together, as one nation, and as one people.
Now, a message of unity and community is the appropriate and expected thing for such a re-election speech. But given Obama's seeming obsession with a postpartisan ideal, we are justified in wondering whether his unity talk was more of a way of saying to the people who voted for you to shut up and cheer while he agrees with the Republicans on austerity economics and cutting benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This struck me as the best unity portion of the speech:

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line. It's not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.
But although most people probably didn't process it that way, I take this passage as a dig at what Obama regards as the left, i.e., organized labor and the rest of the Democratic Party's base:

I’m not talking about blind optimism -- the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. [my emphasis]
When it came to fighting for progressive priorities - a public option for health insurance, comprehensive immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, to take only three examples - during his first term it was Obama himself who was willing to "just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight."

When it came to fighting Democratic base activists over some of those issues, we had then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel screaming at health care reform activists that they were "f****** retarded". Fighting his base was not something that Obama shirked. (To be fair to Rahm, he later apologized - to the mentally disabled for using the word "retarded.")

And Obama used that word "deficit":

Tonight, you voted for action, not politics as usual. (Applause.) You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do.
Of those three specific priorities, fixing the immigration system is the only one that sounds like a progressive priority for him. And even that's being generous. He did support the DREAM Act during his first term. But his main effort at "fixing our immigration system" during the first term was a drastic increase in the number of arrests and deportations, actions which Homeland Security handles so badly that thousands of Latino American citizens get swept up in them and deported. Plus the conditions of the detentions themselves are shameful.

The other three? For Obama, Deficit = the "Grand Bargain" to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; Reforming Our Tax Code = means cutting corporate taxes even more; and Freeing Ourselves From Foreign Oil = drill, baby, drill.

In other words, I recognize the quality of Obama's speeches, this one being an especially good example. But I heavily discount the rhetoric.

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"It is the logic of our times
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That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

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