Paul  Kengor

Unfortunately, where Obama went next in the speech troubles me somewhat. He spoke of “crimes of conscience that call us to action.” No doubt, my bias studying Bush and Reagan reflexively leads me to expect moving words to follow on the sanctity and dignity of human life. That was my inclination when I heard President Obama speak of “common humanity,” “denied … humanity,” and “life’s most sacred responsibility.” In this speech, however, the “right to life,” or the essentially dignity of all life, was not mentioned.

Of course, this is not a surprise. President Obama did likewise in his Inaugural, heralding “liberty and equality” but not “life and liberty”—words akin to the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man but not the American Revolution’s Declaration of Independence (see “Viva La Revolucion”).

Instead, Obama headed to the theme of his address. The progressive president, immediately after underscoring “crimes of conscience,” spoke of “progress” three consecutive times; indeed, “progress” or “progressive” appeared five times in this speech. (Click here for our upcoming conference on progressives.) That’s fitting, given that it’s Obama’s progressive agenda that is defining his presidency and has drawn the lines of distinction between him and his opponents, and has naturally fueled the political-ideological division enflaming the current landscape. Such divisions understandably arise when one charts a sharp new course, an unmistakable agenda of “change.”

Yet, instead of accepting the differences, Obama went back to a tried-and-true political tactic he has used artfully. He repeatedly preached an end to “division” (three times), the need to find “common ground” (twice)—a brilliant tactic he has employed with Religious Left progressives, including those breathtakingly naïve Catholics at Notre Dame who invited him to speak—and urged “civility” (eight times).

President Obama has employed this rhetoric incessantly while (in practice) never veering from a hard-left agenda. This means that common ground can be found only if the other side comes to his side. It’s a common ground that occupies only one side of the fence.

And yet, Obama said much more. He denounced the practice of demonizing opponents. This raised a few eyebrows. Consider:

Barack Obama is an ardent disciple of Saul Alinsky, his fellow Chicagoan and the father of community organizing. He learned and honed the craft from Alinsky’s own manuals, which Obama studied and taught. Among Alinsky’s core tenets in his landmark Rules for Radicals—a book Alinsky literally dedicated to Lucifer (no kidding, click here)—is to isolate the target at hand and “demonize” it. In Obama’s first year as president, the target assumed various forms, from institutions and industries, to banks and health-insurance companies, to the recurrent demon: the Bush administration.

In this speech, however, Obama offered the faithful an olive branch—at least in rhetoric—when he closed: “progress doesn't come when we demonize opponents….. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so—that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time—is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.”

Amen. I hope the president will lead that charge. That would be a refreshing change.