Barack Obama, now the forty-fourth president, kept it brief, mercifully so. Inaugural rhetoric is a currency debauched by John F. Kennedy’s appalling excesses in this department, and the genre has never gotten over it. Still, all incoming presidents are expected to alert the citizenry that there’s a new commander strutting along the poop deck, which means that pledges of a new day get their usual airing, along with reassurances that America is still a beacon of freedom and virtue, also a foe whose reach is long and whose wrath is implacable.
Obama trod this familiar path, offering a mild version of blood, sweat and tears along with some finger-wagging about “a new era of responsibility.” Responsibility begins at home, right there in the White House. So let’s hope Obama launches the new era by accepting a fair measure of responsibility on America’s part for the slaughter of some 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, a large number of them women and children, killed by US weapons furnished to Israel along with moral and political support for its criminal actions. Let him deplore publicly Israel’s savage assault, which came in the run-up to his inaugural.
I assume the talk of this new era was a softening-up salvo. Before we get there we should watch for intentions that often march through the door arm in arm with newfound responsibility. Five days before the inaugural (which may end up costing a thoroughly irresponsible $150 million, much of it furnished by taxpayers), Obama told editors at the Washington Post that he’s going to convene a “fiscal responsibility summit” in February. This is very bad news. “Fiscal responsibility” in this context means only one thing–an attack on Social Security and Medicare. Sure enough, Obama confided to Post reporters that he plans to bring together “a variety of voices on solving the long-term problems with the economy and with a special focus on entitlements.”
A second alarm went off when Obama indicated that this is to be a bipartisan conclave. Attacks on entitlement programs are invariably of this nature, so that Democrats and Republicans can fuse into a gray blur of “responsibility” as they hack away at the people’s last frail defenses. According to the Post, Obama remarked that “some of the difficult choices–particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare–should be made on his watch. ‘We’ve kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,’ he said.”
It’s an invariable rule of inaugurals that at some point during the interminable proceedings, some TV anchor will marvel at the peaceful nature of the transition of power. So it was this time. More than one commentator seemed stunned at the fact that Obama had not been forced to purchase the loyalty of the joint chiefs of staff to assign him shock troops to winkle Bush and Cheney out of the bunker at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But peaceful transitions are tranquil even at the rhetorical level, when those with a serious stake in the system are entirely confident that no change detrimental to their interests is going to take place once the new man takes over. Big businesses soon got frightened by FDR and immediately started planning an armed coup.