President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech was supposed to be one of the great inaugural addresses of all time. It was supposed to encourage us, to inspire us. Instead, it deflated us.
Obama’s inaugural address deflated us because it perfectly crystallized the quandary America now finds itself in: we wanted our faith renewed through a “transformational moment” -- but now we’ve got a faithless man for president. Obama has no faith in God’s stake in the American destiny; instead, God merely “calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.” Despite his protestations to the contrary, Obama has no faith in Americans; instead, he wishes to change our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh: “we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.”
Obama has only one deep and abiding faith: faith in himself. He mentioned humility three times during his inaugural address. The gentleman doth protest too much. This inauguration, in Obama’s view, was about his personal elevation; his accession to the White House was “a moment that will define a generation,” a moment when the nation “set aside childish things.” Most evocatively, Obama cited his inauguration as a moment when all cynics were thrust aside because “the ground has shifted beneath them.” The imagery of Moses (Obama) facing down Korah (Rush Limbaugh and the political right) and the ground swallowing up Korah is unmistakable.
Obama’s faith in himself -- and by extension, faith in the government he leads -- is unshakeable. In his inaugural address, Obama dismissed the question of “whether our government is too big or too small.” Instead, he suggested, we should focus on “whether it works.” Yet there is apparently no situation in which Obama believes the government, led by Barack Obama, doesn’t work. The free market requires “a watchful eye”; “a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” The government must build us “new roads and bridges,” “restore science to its rightful place,” “transform our schools and colleges and universities.” The government must bring about global equality via international redistribution: “poor nations … we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” In Obama’s mind, the government he runs solves all problems and rights all wrongs.
What will happen when government fails?