Obama’s Prefabricated Henhouse: Notes on The 2013 Inaugural Address, Part I

Lambert Strether blogs at Corrente.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. … As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

Obama’s second inaugural address (January 21, 2013) was so shoddy and forgettable -– everyone did, in fact, forget it, and promptly, too, despite contemporaneous hagiography – and yet so unpleasant to read, as hack jobs are to all but hacks, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish this piece on it in a timely fashion. However, the advent of the SOTU – John Favreau’s last White House deliverable before he leaves for Hollywood – has concentrated my mind. Now, there’s very little here for the student of rhetoric to emulate; but I hope that by throwing many of the “phrases tacked together” into buckets or categories, I can at least persuade the reader to listen to the SOTU with a well-attuned but skeptical ear. And if the categories are justly chosen, maybe I can use them for the SOTU as well.

So, I’m going to color code the speech as follows:



Secular religion

A mish-mash of phrases from the Framers, Lincoln and MLK echoes, and so forth


Bathos is an abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace

Neo-liberal catchphrase

“Free market,” “innovation,” “hard choices” etc.


“Our most vulnerable citizens”

Bipartisan shibboleth

“The troops,” for example

Dead metaphors/cliche

“Ring the changes on,” “take up the cudgel for,” “toe the line,” “ride roughshod over,” etc. (Orwell)

Sheer nonsense

Word salad

Falsehood or truthiness

A terminological inexactitude


Lawyerly parsing and weasel wording


“Ladies and gentleman,” and so forth.

I haven’t coded the pretentious diction; there’s too much of it. I’ve divided the speech into parts for convenience, but the parts are not there in the original. To the transcript!

* * *

Part I: Introduction

A dense pattern of allusions to continuity of government: The Framers, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, a pantheon to which Obama self-evidently, and self-executingly, belongs.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation1 together is not2 the colors of our skin3 or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names4.

OBAMA: What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

(APPLAUSE) That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness5. Today we continue6 a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time7. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident5, they’ve never been self-executing8. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his [sic] people here on earth.

OBAMA: The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people9. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword10, we noted11 that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free12.

OBAMA: We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward13 together.14

Notes to Part I

  1. Lincoln, Second Inaugural, 1865: “To bind up the nation’s wounds…”
  2. Parallelism: “What binds … is not … or … or”; “___ of ___” (three times). “We gather…”, “we bear witness…”, “we affirm…”, “we recall.”
  3. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream,” 1963: “Judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The inaugural speech was delayed so that it took place on Martin Luther King Day.
  4. Bathos because the parallel construction is empty: “Binds” and “skin” allude to words from the world-historical figures of Lincoln and King, but the empty calories of “tenets” and “origins” allude to nothing but themselves.
  5. The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
  6. Bathos because words from a Framer’s document are followed by words that are nonsense.
  7. Bridge meaning… with the realities” is nonsense. Cf. “to make life whole, it’s as easy as a bridge!”
  8. Parallelism: “self- … self- ….” Bathos because while the expansive “self-evident” (as we “hold these truths” to be) comes from the Declaration of Independence, the constricted “self-executing” is lawyerly parsing. (“Execute” is also a false note, given Obama’s “kill list.”)
  9. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
  10. Lincoln, Second Inaugural: “Until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
  11. Bathos, as the weak, passive “note” yokes the blood of the Civil War with the principles for which it was fought. “Learned,” perhaps, or “came to understand,” but noted?! Obama is also weirdly equivocal about the causes of the civil war: The blood of “the” lash (Obama omits the definite article) was drawn by the Confederate slaveowners, and the blood of “the sword” was drawn by those fighting to end it. But Obama treats pro- and anti-slavery forces as morally equivalent and learning (“we noted”) the same lessons from the war. None of that is true.
  12. Lincoln, Springfield, IL, 1858: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
  13. Obama campaign slogan, 2012. Bathos is self-explanatory.
  14. The last word of Part I, and the first and last words of Part II.

Part II: Plea for unity, past and present

Rhetorically, the transition from Part I and Part II is signaled by the first use of Obama’s favorite device, anaphora, and by the abandonment of the dense allusions to phrases from the Framers through Lincoln (although we will see allusions to Lyndon Baines Johnson and Nixon). We will also see the introduction both of neo-liberal catchphrases and populism, and the first outright falsehoods (unless you consider the idea that “the privileges of a few” do not include slaveholding a falsehood). Elegantly, and reinforcing the populist message, Part II begins and ends – a case of epistrophe – with the word “together.”

Together1 we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.2 Together we discovered that a free market3 only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play4. Together we resolve5 [sic] that a great nation must care for the vulnerable6 and protect its people from life’s worst7 hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all societies ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character8. For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action9.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.

OBAMA: Now, more than ever10, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.


This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled (ph) our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending11.


And economic recovery has begun12.


America’s possibilities are limitless13, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.

My fellow Americans14 we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together15.


Notes to Part II

  1. Anaphora: “Together… . Together… . Together…. .”

  2. Sloppy. Railroads and highways, but not airplanes? Training, but not education?

  3. Neo-liberal catchphrases are so familiar to all that I will only annotate a few individually.

  4. “Fair play” gives the first whiff of populism. (How, after all, could the “free market” [genuflects] ever be unfair?)

  5. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
  6. Why only the “vulnerable”? Single payer, for example, would cover everyone, not just “the vulnerable” (except insofar as all are “vulnerable” to illness and mortality).
  7. Not “hazards” but “worst hazards.” For social insurance programs, as opposed to programs for the FIRE sector, Obama is always careful to qualify his support.
  8. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream,” 1963: “Judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  9. Here beginneth the socialist part! Except not. Notice Obama carefully does not say “public” collective action. Corporations act collectively too, my friend! So, while Obama says that “no single person can train all the math and science teachers,” Obama through his actions supports privatizing public schools through charters – also a form of “collective action,” though for profit.
  10. Nixon campaign slogan, 1972.

  11. Drones,“kill list,” etc.
  12. For whom?
  13. If you belive in the three laws of thermodynamics, this is not true. If you believe, as I do not, in ZOMG!!! the Debt!!!!!, as Obama does, this is not true. If you want to do anything about climate change, you’d better at least believe that America’s future as a petro-state is not limitless.
  14. A catchphrase from Lyndon Baines Johnson.
  15. Epistrophe: “… together,” after anaphora: “Together…. together… .”

* * *

Tomorrow, I’ll finish this close reading of the text, and make some final comments.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ArkansasAngie

    Honestly … i don’t care. Obama is simply the wedge of the day. His policies are the same as Bush’s. He has the same boss. His mission is the same.

    1. Susan the other

      I think so too. We are not ever going to go forward together (i.e. you follow me now) because our “leaders” – with Obama leading their parade – have destroyed justice. It’s nauseating.

  2. anyone

    Once again, George Carlin summed it up best:

    There’s just enough bullshit to hold things together in this country. Bullshit is the glue that binds us as a nation. Where would be without our safe, familiar, American bullshit? The land of the free, the home of the brave, the American dream, all men are equal, justice is blind, the press is free, your vote counts, business is honest, the good guys win, the police are on your side, god is watching you, your standard of living will never decline, and everything is gonna be just fine. The official American bullshit story. I call it the American okie-doke. Everyone of those items is provably true at one level or another, but we believe them because they’re pounded into our heads from the time we’re children… They put it into the heads of kids, they pound it in there, because they know kids are too young to mount a sophisticated argument against these kinds of ideas… So kids never learn to question things… Nobody questions things in this country anymore…

    And then the kids grow up and perpetuate the bullshit to the following generations using the time-honored techniques above.

    1. anyone

      And now we know why the great orator was chosen for his part. He’s very possibly the only one alive who could deliver such old school propagandist bullshit with a straight face. Even poor Mitt Romney (or W for that matter) – bless his money grubbing heart – couldn’t help but smirk knowingly every time he launched into such fusillades of unmitigated bullshit. With Obama we have a “transformational” bullshitter of a higher order altogether, to match the presidential kill lists and the official rubber stamping of financial fraud, which have quickly become the true hallmarks of his presidency.

      What all of this portends for the rest of us once the current cult of personality in chief hits the lecture/consulting circuit in four years is hard to say, but I imagine they have a master bullshitter 2.0 being programmed somewhere to pick up the mantle as we speak. And with trillions of corporate dollars at risk, I’m sure that he/she/it will be a dandy. I can hardly wait.

      1. Glenn Condell

        ‘He’s very possibly the only one alive who could deliver such old school propagandist bullshit with a straight face’

        Clinton might beg to differ. Blair too. They would provide not just a straight face, but far more conviction than Obama. Or perhaps ‘conviction’. They would probably charge more though.

        But you’re right – it is hard to imagine anyone outside of a robot with a greater capacity for facial opacity than BO. He looks he died last week. You also wonder if there is a centimetre or two of air between his soles and the red carpet. Facial expressions are beneath him, at least in that company. Maybe he’s different with the savvy businessmen.

        By the way ‘neo-liberal liturgy’ is great. I guess that makes the speech a ‘homily’ for the Homeland (a term that still manages to amuse and scare the bejesus out of me in equal measure)

        Fascinating parse-age Lambert.

    2. Glenn Condell

      Did George Carlin ever tell a gag? From here it looks like all he ever did was tell the God’s honest truth, and yet he is regarded as a comedian!

      Is bullshit still the American leitmotif? The one essential word? It is always going to be there or thereabouts but surely it is getting a run from ‘secrecy’ and ‘full spectrum dominance’ right now. Maybe ‘drones’ at some point soon…

  3. Goin' South

    Nice piece of work, Lambert. And it can’t have been too pleasant to have waded through that word by word.

  4. Clive

    Consider yourselves lucky; here in Britain we get little-Englander-the-spirit-that-forged-the-age-of-Empire-not-your-funny-foreigner-proud-liberal-tradition-conservatism-with-a-small-c nonsense.

    It’s much, much worse than your folksy wrapped around the flag hokum, believe me.

    1. rotter

      Its the same thing, appealing to the same pinheads – these kinds of speeches are meant to enclose the area of what will be permissible language – the boundaries of the “public debate” over the issues signaled in the speech.

    2. Glenn Condell

      Bipartisan Aussie political shibboleths, more often said than done – tolerance, independence, openness, the ‘fair go’ and best of all ‘the lucky country’.

  5. JEHR

    Wow, your analysis tells us what Obama read in order to get his rhetorical niceties.

    Now, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he had spoken directly from his heart without notes and without prompter. But then, maybe he would have had nothing to say at all!

    1. anyone

      Think of it as a neo-liberal liturgy delivered by the recently anointed high priest. Religious articles of faith for the secularly inclined, all couched in timeless thread bare phrases whose meanings are now so broad as to be virtually meaningless. Like all such rites, they rarely conform to actual reality. On that level it all works (just add incense and finger cymbals to complete the effect). On any other level, the disconnects are overwhelming.

      1. rotter

        Obama is more like the soul-brother guest preacher to make it all cool, rather than the day to day abbot of pain.

  6. S Haust

    As for the passage in the introductory portion,identified by notes 9 and 10, and where the word “republic” is used,I believe the proximate source of this rhetorical mishmash to be, not Abraham Lincoln, but Rick Santelli.

    A text of his rant, from 12/13/2012, can be found here:

    I’m kind of surprised that no one else seems to have noticed this.

  7. Animated GIF of Gary Busey clapping like hell

    Self-executing is my favorite. For the last seventy years or so the US has been franticly trying to escape the laws it set up for the world. UN members took the Four Freedoms seriously and codified them as treaty law, and the US government has been evading and underming that law ever since.

    The bastardized concept of self-executing law is the kleptocracy’s last line of defense. When the world points out universally-acknowledged duties that the US government owes to the people, the US government yells “self-executing” to try and give it the runaround.

    When a unitary-executive shitstain like Obama says “self-executing,” he’s saying, don’t look at me, it’s congress’ job to write this treaty into law. But by ratifying the treaty, Congress made it binding. The other parties to the agreement don’t give a crap whether it’s up to congress or up to the executive – the state is on the hook. On the hook to investigate and prosecute NCS and JSOC torture. On the hook to protect Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s right to life and to a fair trial. On the hook to respect OWS’ right to assemble, and Assange’s right to seek and obtain information, and John Kiriakou’s right to freedom of expression. On the hook to reliquinquish illegal use of force as a threat or “option,” and rely on pacific settlement of disputes.

    Interestingly, Obama’s self-executing bullshit tries to pass the buck not to congress, but to the people. Because it’s your fault when a NYPD cop breaks a woman’s wrist and clamps on handcuffs for David Cohen. It’s your fault when Sergeant Robert Roche splits Scott Olsen’s skull for John Bennett.

    The treaties are getting more teeth. Sanctions used to be limited to public shame and disgrace, which the US neutralized at home with censorship and propaganda. But increasingly, victims of this degenerate state can go over its head to the world.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      After the lame white paper justifying war crimes, Obama really should take the term “self-executing” literally.

  8. Doug Terpstra

    This analysis is so unfair. When parsed like this, even the most magnificent proclamation can be made to seem like the vacuous plagiarisms of a charlatan; and even the most evocative oration can be made to sound “like a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Reagan’s chief teleprompter, Peggy Noonan, must be especially grateful today that Lambert did not autopsy her propaganda masterworks.

    1. mac

      I think that this brings to light that Obama has no real ideas or thoughts other than gathering a following, just says and does what ever can get the biggest following. He is after all a “community Organizer” “rabble rouser” so he does what he is trained to do and his “helpers’ all work to that goal and with that technique.
      Should we be surprised, i think not, look and you will see what is there, unless you are taken in by the speeches and acts.
      The danger is I suppose that there are those “using” him to further darker goals.

      1. rotter

        Hes not a “community organizer” or a “rabble rouser” – hes just another neoliberal drone in blackface.

      1. rotter

        people from her generation retained the ability to write -i dont see much of that ability in those from about 30-35 and under

    2. Anon Too

      Reagan was a master so kudos to Peg. As a trained actor he had cross party appeal something that is usually missing with most other good oratorical presidents. The majority prefer sincere bullshit and I can’t think of any recent president than can touch Reagan’s delivery in that regard.

  9. Alejandro

    Excellent! This is really great stuff.

    May I humbly add “Rationalization”-euphemism for the art and science of using the language of “Justice” to legitimize Injustice.

  10. PaulArt

    I am recovering from ROTFLMAO. Unable to deliver any coherent comments! Really grateful to this stellar collection of commenters whose observations regularly eclipse the erudition in the main article itself!

  11. John Yard

    I believe that for this administration, rhetoric is a substitute for action, not a means of building public support fir action to come. The deeper the rhetorical overlay, the less will be done.

    I believe that Obama feels that as the first African American President he has a place in history. There is no need to do anything else.

    The same dynamic would have happened with a Hillary Clinton

    The Democrats defined their mission from 1980 to 2008 as
    the party of race , ethnicity , and gender equality. This is the result.

    1. Massinissa

      Race, ethnicity and gender equality…

      WITHOUT Economic equality. Which completely defeats the fucking point. Blacks, for instance, are doing worse today economically than they have been in decades. There certainly has been no ‘recovery’ for black America, not to mention the other sectors of the working class. The Democrats pander to the emotional sensibilities of minority and women groups, without actually addressing any of the real needs of said groups.

      Political equality matters nill without a fair and balanced economic system, and since 1980 the Democrats have been almost as gung-ho about Neoliberal economic theology as the Right has been (Bill Clinton anyone? NAFTA, “end of Medicare as we know it”, etc etc).

      1. ian

        As Cato put it: “When Cicero spoke, men marvelled. When Caesar spoke, men marched”.
        Guess which one O is.

        1. different clue

          A lot of liberals and “progressives” and black citizen-voters are marching after Judas Horse Obama right into the Catfood Corral.

  12. juliania

    “…our founding creed…”

    Well, that certainly spells it out. And here all along I thought he said

    “…our foundering greed…” – or maybe

    “…our floundering greed…”? “…our foundling, Greed…”?

    The color coding makes all the difference.

    Nice work. Lambert.

  13. craazyman

    are you sure that was the real speech, Lambert?

    are you sure it wasn’t some movie you were watching about a young-looking guy who gets elected president and, in the movie, makes a speech? This sounds like a movie speech scene to me.

    sometimes the mind confuses reality and imagination.

    I haven’t yet heard one Obama speech so I would not know. It will be an 8-year-stretch, probably, by the time it’s over. It makes me feel a litle guilty. I think the word “IDIOT” comes from ancient Greek word about a man who ignores public affairs. Oh well, I guess there are worse things than being an idiot. I hope so anyway.

    1. anyone

      Cheer up craazy. It’s safe to say Billie Joe Armstrong would beg to disagree with your self-deprecating analysis:

      Don’t wanna be an American idiot.
      Don’t want a nation under the new media
      And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
      The subliminal mind fuck America.

      Don’t want to be an American idiot.
      One nation controlled by the media.
      Information age of hysteria.
      It’s calling out to idiot America.

  14. Gaylord

    I appreciate analysis which reveals a calculated method concealed within crafted prose drawing from various sources and directed toward a range of political factions, but mostly toward the Democratic Party base.

    I thought it was quite a good speech on its own, but because it emanated from an untrustworthy source, it became meaningless and hypocritical. Therefore, it had no significance or believability to me …nothing but theater.

  15. alano

    Really good post and comments above. Obama is a complete farce on a level of the Bush’s and Clinton’s. I did’nt listen to the original speech because his lies are unbearable. Talk is cheap, action is proof.

  16. frosty zoom

    PRESIDENT OBLAHMA: Thank me. Thank me. Thank me so much.

    President of Vice Biden, Mr. Chief Just Us, mambas of the United States Congress, distinguished CONTRIBUTORS, and you schlubs, each time we gather to inaugurate a bobblehead, we bear witness to the enduring ¡three-ply! strength of our Constitution. We deform the premise of our democracy. We recall that what blinds this nation are the colors of our iPhones and the Stars we dance with.

  17. Hugh

    Thanks for highlighting this. [rimshot]

    Superficially, the first part of the Inaugural is inspirational bombast with throw away lines from great Americans past. The selection is unoriginal and, lacking any context or discussion, is a series of clichés. The message is that the election of an African American President means that Jefferson’s credo has been fulfilled.

    I suggest, however, an alternate reading of the speech looking past its “measured triumphalism” and see it rather as an expression of the preoccupations, as a manifestation of the guilty conscience if you will, of our ruling classes. Let me explain.

    For me, the use of the Jefferson quote was banal and trite, but when it led to the Lincoln one that no union could “survive half slave, and half free,” I had a WTF moment. Slavery for all its evils, if not inequality, was an issue that was dealt with a century and a half ago. Why bring it up now, and in such terms? And if it is to be brought up, then how can any avoid the dissonance of Jefferson, the great landowner and slaveholder, waxing poetic about equality? Then it struck me that Jefferson was the key. Jefferson, like the other Founders, believed in equality in theory, but not in practice. And the Framers’ belief in equality was significantly less than Jefferson’s. They built the promise of equality and the practice of inequality into the Constitution. It is why people like me say the real American Revolution has yet to happen.

    Obama reflects an elitist mythology when he says,

    “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people.”

    The first question to ask is which “patriots” is he talking about? Certainly, the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Lees, Hancocks, and Franklins, the rich merchants, the slave and property owners, but probably not the “mob” who made up the Continental Army and made the Revolution happen. Both of these groups fought to replace the tyranny of a king. But contrary to what Obama says, the first group, the early American elite, was profoundly for the “privileges of a few” that is themselves and sought only to keep any faction of them from establishing control over the whole of them. They were united only in being unalterably opposed to the “rule of the mob,” that is the common man.

    Obama continues this tradition: democracy in theory, republic in practice. He begins by talking about the “promise of our democracy” (theory) but, having defined the common man out of the equation, he asserts, in the name of all, that what the patriots of 1776 wanted was a republic (practice). This is nothing more than a useful, but historic, lie. It was what that era’s elites wanted. His evocation of Lincoln’s government of the people, by the people, for the people is just a way to cover over a fait accompli, a government which for much of its history was not by its people, or at least not all of them (those without property, slaves, women), and has never been of the people or for them, but rather the country’s elites.

    As throughout our history but even more so now, Obama champions elite control of the country while glossing over this control with a few democratic flourishes directed at We The People. But if after more than 220 years, we still only have the “promise of democracy” should we, the people, not accept that our republic is structurally incapable of producing either democracy or equality? Should we not begin considering alternatives?

    And I would ask you to consider if our nation could not survive half slave and half free a 150 years ago, how can it survive 99% debt indentured and 1% rich now?

  18. Ms G

    Kudos, Lambert, and thank you. And Hugh as well, for your comment.

    Here’s the unvarnished neo-lib message in 3 lines:

    “for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

    Global Economy (Global Asset Stripping + 3d World Wages in the US) Ruled by Risk-Takers (Banks/Speculators and other FIRE people) in which if you are young and eager, you will either (1) thrive or (2) serve as a pauper.

    Note — it’s the “youth” and “Driven” who matter — the rest don’t even rate a mention.

    I’m reminded, among other things, of Hitler and his obsession with youth.

  19. Paul Tioxon

    Lambert, you see what I see in his speech. Good ideas presented more as icons or symbols in themselves, than a political agenda, a plan with specifics and demand to DO something to make progress on the New Deal–Great Society. If he said you would be registered to vote as an independent citizen, issued with your birth certificate, from the moment you are born and valid at the age of 18, just show your birth certificate for proof of right to vote, that would be a specific plan.

    If he said we need more democracy and will eliminate the electoral college and congressional districts and federal representation will come a general state election, not from carved out districts, that would be a specific plan, but he offers pie in the sky, that you get when you die.

    If he said Medicare and Medicaid would pay 100% of doctor and hospital bills, with no 80/20 bullshit, foregoing the need for private supplemental insurance and other out of pocket costs, that would a specific demand to see legislated. But, he just enunciated a change in course, without telling us the new ground that would covered, just the past triumphs that have been consolidated.

    That is not enough. That was then, this is now, and new demands need to be made if there is to be material progress and not just the obvious realization that the people who are taking power are in the majority and they are Hispanic, Black, Gay and Lesbian, pot smokers, environmentalists, organic food soil conservationists and pure water advocates. They people who are in the majority want illegal gun traffic to Mexican Cartels choked off, and guns flowing freely into crime ridden urban neighborhoods shut down.

    Another writer shares this same view on beautiful words devoid of plans and objectives for change.

    ” It’s striking how seldom he mentions labor unions, the only collective institution through which workers can act on their own to improve their lot. Conspicuously missing from that trio of freedom movement locations evoked in the inaugural was a reference to any one of the union triumphs that enabled millions of Americans, many without a high-school degree, to develop “the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.” Perhaps Obama just decided that “San Francisco” (as in the 1934 general strike) or “Flint” (as in the 1936 sit-down strike that established the United Auto Workers) would disrupt the polished cadence of his address. But nor has he made any protest against the attempt by conservatives, in the courts and Congress, to stop the National Labor Relations Board from functioning at all.

    What the president did say about helping the poor was beautiful. But he seems to have no plan to fulfill the hope he raised for an initiative, however modest, that could lift “that little girl” and millions of children like her out of poverty. Absent a hike in the minimum wage, or a jobs program for the long-term unemployed, or funding for failing public school systems, Obama’s rhetoric will soon be just a faint, sour memory. Right now, the best opportunity for the impoverished girl cited by Obama to emerge from the ranks of the poor would be to join the military when she turns seventeen. It’s not quite what LBJ meant by a “war on poverty.”


  20. Glenn Condell

    ‘What the president did say about helping the poor was beautiful.’

    Beauty without truth is at the very least mannerism, but in this context it’s something much worse. It is like the veil drawn over a fallen racehorse being slaughtered.


  21. willnielsen

    The tone of injured white supremacy that can be detected in some of these comments is invidious. Mr. Obama was elected twice – the second time during major economic hard times and without having started a war. His health care system is an achievement that has frustrated social reformers for a hundred years. Obama’s success comes at a price, however. He has outflanked his enemies on the right with his bailouts and assassinations, and yes his public statements have become bland.

    1. different clue

      Can you analyse any of the comments here the way Mr. Strether has analysed President Obama’s speech and demonstrate the injured white supremacy? And do, please, be specific. Also, can you analyse what is so very “achievement” about the Affordable Care Act? Also, could you mention what “enemies” on the “right” Mr. Obama has “outflanked” with his bailouts and assassinations? And can you demonstrate how outflanking those “enemies on his “right” is worth the price of bailouts and assassinations to the rest of us? (And I assume you are including the deliberate run-out-the-clock immunity and impunity being granted to FIRE sector lawbreakers in the word “bailouts”).

    2. OpenThePodBayDoorHAL

      Will – you don’t have to start wars to be a war monger. Obomba has shown his stripes there, when Lindsay Graham proposes a resolution praising Obomba’s drone policy then you KNOW it must be poisonous. On health care, “100 years of frustrated social reformers” is a bunch of BS, the UK put in National Health based on single payer in 1948 when they were economically crushed. Obomba took single payer off the table on Day One so insurers could keep the billions flowing to shareholders, thanks a lot. And “outflanking enemies on the right with his assasinations” is the most hideous formulation for Bush/Obomba’s destruction of all legal jurisprudence, won with rivers of blood since the Magna Carta: evidence, trials, charges, judges, juries, all out the window with a stroke. No, the actions of this Manchurian Candidate (not his words) are what we can judge him by and his actions are worse than despicable.

    1. Glenn Condell

      It made me think of Dick Tuck. Obama needs a Tuck to puncture that invincible pomposity. Probably such an analog now would be lucky to get within a bull’s roar and if he did they’d lock him up. Or shoot him.

      1. different clue

        A new Tuck would use new methods. There is a classic-worthy photo of Obama with tight compressed-lips and slitty-eyed hate-sneer on his face. There is also a classic-worthy
        photo of Shrubya Bush with tight compressed-lips and slitty-eyed hate-sneer on his face. Those two photos should be found and put side by side and captioned: Separated at Birth?

        I don’t know where to find a still of the Bush photo, but I saw it in passing in a tiny video clip embedded in Eminem’s “Bush versus Kerry” rap video. Anyone watching it all the way through will see the face I mean. Then just figure out how/where to get a still of it and get the same looking still-face of Obama. And put them side by side.

        1. different clue

          But there I go . . . getting all white suprematistly injured and invidious and stuff. Shame on me! Bad clue!
          Bad bad clue!

        2. Glenn Condell

          dc, Bush/Barack equivalence when it began got a good laugh, it seemed outlandish. Over time as disillusionment set in and it became more plausible, it was used for more serious purposes. Now I find myself wondering if that trajectory will continue to the point where the outlandishness will stem from the juxtaposition of the ‘have a beer with’ good cop Dubya with the smooth talking bad cop Barack, the one who performed the last rites for US democracy and prosperity (a dirty job, but someone had to do it!)

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