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Taking Back Patriotism


The Reverend Joseph Lowery stole the rhetorical show, but President Obama’s speech was interesting, dignified, and unmemorable, like so many inaugural addresses.  That does not mean it was unimportant.  As a speech it had a few clumsy moments when it strained for effect, but it is part of the new president’s oratorical skill to leave you thinking better of the speech because he gave it.  His demeanor and delivery elevated it above the rather ordinary level of its political tropes and themes.  A new era of responsibility?  George W. Bush already called for that in 2001, as did Bill Clinton before him.  Put the stale ideological debates of the past behind us?  Ditto Bush, Clinton (remember the Third Way?), and even Michael Dukakis (“competence, not ideology”), though not, thank goodness, in an actual inaugural speech.  But the crucial political effect was on the listeners’ emotions.  Obama intends to take back patriotism, and to a lesser extent religion, for the Left.  That’s the meaning of his ostentatious embrace of the Founding Fathers and American history in general.  This will be a transformed patriotism, of course, but its emotional roots are old or traditional, and by weaving together the old and the new he hopes to succeed, as he likes to prophesy, in “remaking” America.  This was FDR’s strategy, too, and his famous pragmatism, echoed in Obama’s loyalty to what “works,” was in service to a bold ideological agenda.  Just like Obama’s is.  Give him credit, though, for not playing the Lincoln card wantonly and for treating with grace the civil rights’ and voting rights’ revolutions that he embodies.


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