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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address Was More Centrist Than Liberal

Kenneth S. Baer, a managing director of the Harbour Group and a former official of the OMB in the Obama Administration, has a WaPo op-ed, “Obama’s Mainstream Pitch,” which challenges the popular view of his inaugural address as a “liberal” call to battle. Baer, author of “Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton,” cites a litany of commentators putting to speech into a liberal-progressive pidgeon hole and then explains his view in his nut graphs:

Obama’s address was firmly in the mainstream — of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era. The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought…Defending the idea of a social safety net to guard against the vagaries of life is hardly radical.

Baer elaborates on the ‘Obama hasn’t moved left; the Republicans have moved right’ theme:

Defending a safety net and calling for opportunity for all is nothing new, though Obama’s call for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans is. Yet this, along with the calls for equal pay for women, welcoming immigrants and action on climate change, is radical only if viewed through the oversize tortoise-shell glasses of the 1980s.
…Perspective is everything in assessing Obama’s second inaugural address. One cannot ignore how the Republican Party’s move to the right has shifted the parameters of political debate. On economic policy, the president is in line with the bipartisan, postwar consensus on the safety net…On social issues, he is firmly in the mainstream and hardly a McGovernik.

Baer concludes with this kicker from Newt Gingrich:

I didn’t think it was very liberal…There were one or two sentences obviously conservatives would object to, but 95 percent of the speech I thought was classically American, emphasizing hard work, emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together. I thought it was a good speech.”

Baer’s view probably won’t prevail among the snap-judgement punditry, though it makes sense nonetheless.

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