A Reaganite Speech?

by Paul Kengor

It was an inaugural address that, on the surface, is eloquent and seems unobjectionable. One Reagan scholar e-mailed me and said it sounded like a speech that Ronald Reagan could have given. Perhaps so. But the problem is the deeper meaning and intentions behind Barack Obama’s carefully chosen words.

For instance, take this line: “Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.”

Well, that’s closer to what Ronald Reagan stated in his 1981 inaugural, “government is not the solution  . . .  government is the problem,” but it’s a far cry from this statement from Obama in February 2009, after his first inauguration: “The federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs.”

What Obama said in 2009 is, in truth, what he has pursued for four years. What he said today is mere public relations and window dressing.

But that isn’t the worst part of the speech. Amid all the unnerving references to life, dignity, and God, not to mention the appalling line about a “nation of takers”—which, in truth, is precisely what Obama and Democrats are generating—the most telling theme of the speech that most alarmed me was the underlying progressive manifesto that Obama subtly laid out. Take these two lines:

“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time.”

In the hands of a conservative like Ronald Reagan, this would be just fine, a return to our Founding principles. Yet, in the hands of a radical-left “progressive” like Barack Obama, these are not the soothing words they appear to be on the surface. They are a blueprint for what Obama has more precisely called a “fundamental transformation” of America. These are not benign words. The words must be paired to actions. They are a call to action, to redefine everything from our understanding of religious liberty and the family to the very notion of what is America. Underlying this sweet speech is a sweeping agenda, and Barack Obama knows it, even as his cheering, fawning masses do not.

— Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is author of the new book The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor. His other books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

The Corner

The one and only.