Today we witnessed one of our country’s most magnificent events, a Presidential Inauguration, celebrating our ability to be governed by officials who are elected only for specified terms. It also ennobles all of us by causing us to recognize that, despite very important differences, we all respect the process even when it produces results we don’t prefer.
As readers of this blog have gathered, I am among those tens of millions of American voters who would have preferred a different result this time around. And I am still annoyed by the commonly expressed narrative that President Obama achieved a “great victory”. In fact, it was one of the narrowest popular vote victories in history (about 1%), especially for a re-elected incumbent, with very small margins in states that gave him his electoral vote win, which, itself, was smaller than the first time around. In any event, he won and let us all hope that he and his administration can work with the co-equal Legislative Branch (let’s not forget the basics of how our government is intended to work) to achieve good results for our country over the next four years. A lot of our future, for better or for worse, will depend on what we’re able to accomplish in this short time.
Like many, I was surprised, but pleased, by the specificity of the President’s inaugural address. Rather than mere thematic platitudes about America’s exceptional natural and human endowment and its unique set of core values leading us to continued greatness as a nation, we heard a long list of intentions for particular results. I was personally very pleased to hear the calls to better deal with gun violence, a much more welcoming policy for immigration, gay rights, tax reform, and better managing the costs of entitlements. It would be hard to disagree with the broad goals; the problems will lie in the details of how those goals are to be achieved. And I would have preferred him to say more about cooperative engagement with those who don’t share all his views and less continuing to divide the nation on economic terms. There was a lot of “code” in his speach to reassure his electoral base that they could count on him to further their agendae; there was little to suggest that he genuinely respected the views of those not in that base. And most fundamentally, there was little to suggest that he is prepared to truly grapple with the most fundamental of all the problems we face…the completely unsustainable mismatch of government expenditures and revenue. That problem must be set on a credible course of correction or all of the other goals will be impossible to achieve.
Still, today, I am prepared to be hopeful, both because that’s in the spirit of celebration of our success as a democratic republic and because our newly inaugurated President should be looking to how history will judge him over all future time. If he is as wise as he is smart, he will not want to waste this fabulous opportunity to do some very good things…that the country is actually able to pay for indefinitely. Still, I’m glad that the next election is only about 21 months away, just in case.