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Huntley: Obama calls for unity, sets stage for division

Updated: February 23, 2013 6:19AM



The inauguration of a president is a time for beautiful words of unity and soaring national aspirations. That was evident in President Barack Obama’s speech Monday. The work of a president, a Congress and the politicians who inhabit those offices is too often far from beautiful or soaring. That was evident in Obama’s news conference last week brimming with scorn toward Republicans and in the heated rhetoric that Republicans have been more than happy to heap on the president.

“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said in his surprisingly brief inaugural speech. Yet only a week ago, he was saying Republicans have “suspicions” about Social Security and about feeding hungry children in poverty. Only a week ago, he turned his re-election campaign organization, Obama for America, into a permanent campaign organization, Organizing for Action, to advance his political goals.

For all his talk of unity — “we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people” — Obama clearly laid down the gauntlet that he was going to push his liberal agenda: green energy, climate change, more spending and more taxes. There was no invitation to other ideas from Republicans and conservatives. Perhaps surprising was that Obama listed his energy and climate goals ahead of immigration reform. That will only reinforce suspicions on the right that the White House sees immigration not as a legislative objective but as a continuing political hammer with which to bludgeon Republicans.

Obama’s speech with its emphasis on themes of economic equality — “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it” — portends more battles over the best path forward to prosperity. That certainly sounds like Obama will press for ever more government spending and higher taxes on those he considers the rich.

The president seemed to draw a line in the sand against any significant changes in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — “these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” Yet these things, especially Medicare, have been identified by virtually every mainstream economist as the chief drivers of our national debt and as entitlements that must be reformed, not just to prevent fiscal disaster for the country but to preserve the safety net for future Americans in need.

Obama’s assertion that “a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play” is a warning to business that more regulation is on the way. “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care” portends a heavy hand from the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, that will fall on business, health-care providers and inevitably on the consumers of medical services.

Obama’s inaugural speech made a couple of optimistic assertions: “A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun.” The bloody hostage drama in Algeria, the fighting against Islamist militants in Mali, and the resurgence of al-Qaida and its allies across the Middle East and North Africa mean that America likely will be tested by terrorism in the years ahead. His rosy description of the economy came with unemployment still high and the national debt surging.

Despite the soaring rhetoric, make no mistake about it, this was a fiercely partisan speech, promising more big government, more taxes, more spending, more battles with a GOP opposition that, however weakened by the last election, hasn’t given up on the struggle to preserve the Founding Fathers’ vision of limited government reserving the greatest liberty to the republic’s citizens.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the venomous partisan politics of Washington. But scant evidence exists that Obama ever placed bridging that divide ahead of his liberal agenda to transform America. There was no evidence of it in his inaugural speech.



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