12 January 2017

The President's Long Goodbye

President Obama gave his so-called "farewell address" a couple of days back.

Because he has announced that he will continue to reside in Washington D.C. area after his term officially ends, this will not be the last we hear of him. Like many professional athletes, Obama cannot endure the life that must be lived after the cheering has stopped. 

You can listen and read the transcript here.

Obama's remarks made the traditional allusion to our national creed of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and a couple of nods to the conservative notion of the common good. He repeatedly returned, however, to the regular progressive  paradigms of class and identity politics. Among the lowlights:

First, Obama reiterated his original campaign theme of "Hope and Change."  He said he "learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it." Of course, "Hope and Change" are somewhat empty concepts. In what is your hope? What kind of change? And as we saw this November, such empty slogans work both ways: ordinary people got involved, got engaged, and got the Democrats out of the White House.

Second, Obama noted some of the changes during his eight years in office: 

"If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11, if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens, if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that's what we did.  That's what you did."

The effects of the great recession still linger. The job creation is such a long stretch because it has been moving at a glacier like pace. Obamacare is crumbling. No one knows what the future holds for Cuba and Iran. And everyone forgets that Obama the candidate opposed so-called marriage equality.

Third, recognizing the limits of the recovery, Obama turned to class:

"But for all the real progress that we've made, we know it's not enough. Our economy doesn't work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.  That's the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who's just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that's a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics."

He failed to make the connection, but what he called "the economic argument" largely explains the loss of Hillary Clinton.

Fourth, Obama turned to race:

"There's a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I've lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum."

He rightly acknowledged the improvement of race relations that has occurred in his lifetime and wisely noted the unrealistic expectations--even naivete--of those who anticipated the emergence of a post-racial America. He seems oblivious, though, to his own contributions to the decline in civility regarding racial controversies or the role of his own party and its mainstream media fluffers in continuing to  inflame racial tensions. Aghast at the racially tinged tweets of Donald Trump, Democrats forget that they called the fundamentally decent Mitt Romney and John McCain racists. too.

Fifth, Obama tied race and class together as a subtle indictment of those who rejected his party in the recent presidential election.

"But we're not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.  If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we're unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don't look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America's workforce.  And we have shown that our economy doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women."

Of course, no one has expressed an unwillingness to invest in the children of immigrants. Many people, however, have expressed an unwillingness to invest in the children of illegal immigrants.

Finally, rhetorically rejecting the Constitution one last time, Obama issued a renewed call for American cultural imperialism--to force other counties to accept  Western  progressive values about democracy, human rights, the role of women, and the rights LGBT people.

"That's why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women's rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that's part of defending America."

So now forcing alien values on other peoples falls under the rubric of  "providing for the common defense, " even while subverting traditional values at home.

Well, farewell to you, too, Mr. President.

No comments: