Mona Charen

Not to say that Obama is anything but a liberal. Still, he honored the military -- even if he sometimes left ideas dangling. Example: "As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages." What do they have to tell us? What are the dead of Arlington whispering? We never find out. The next sentence just explains that they deserve our respect because they "embody the spirit of service." Well, that was flat. The structure of the paragraph cried out for something stirring, like "They are telling us that never in the long history of mankind has a nation so merited the love and sacrifices of her sons and daughters."

Naturally, the parts of the speech the commentators seemed to like the most were actually hackneyed political evergreens. "We will restore science to its rightful place" -- who moved it? -- "and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs." Aren't we supposed to be "putting away childish" ideas like getting something for nothing? Besides, our health care system is heavily technologically weighted compared with others -- that's one of the reasons it's so expensive. Obama's pet project of digitalizing medical records seems like a sensible idea. But it would be expensive ($75 billion to $100 billion) and there are privacy concerns. Maybe it would save money, but surely not enough, not nearly enough, to make a significant dent in our huge health care spending.

Obama's call to reject "worn-out dogmas" and "petty grievances" was greeted as transformational. The issue, he said, is not whether we have big government or small government but whether government works. Isn't this warmed-over Michael Dukakis? He told us in 1988 that the issue was "competence, not ideology." Obama then offered that when his administration finds that government is not helping people to find decent jobs, good care, and a dignified retirement, "programs will end." Now that's the audacity of hope! As Reagan reminded us, the closest thing to eternal life here on earth is a federal program.

Obama has never actually offered anything that was new -- except himself. And nothing in his inaugural address clarified where this fresh personality wants to take the country.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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