Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day Survival Guide

For the next four years . . .

How’s a conservative to deal today? Some thoughts about today and the next four years.

RICHARD BROOKHISER

I covered Obama’s first inauguration for the NewsHour. Moby and Sir Ian McKellen were on the train going to D.C. Forget hotel rooms — I slept on a friend’s couch in Chevy Chase. Obama was the Numinous Negro, come to wash our sins and our past away.

There was a grain of truth to this. Electing a black president was an American milestone. But that passed the moment he first took the oath of office. What now?

#ad#Many Americans still credit his salvific powers, and many more are loath to doubt them. Hardheaded liberals value the vision of racial redeemer only as a tool. The bloom is gone; the ground game of politics — reseeding the courts, fortifying Obamacare — remains.

Most second-term presidents turn to foreign affairs, as an escape from frustration at home. Almost all of them have a lousy time (the trend of unhappy second terms began with George Washington).

Obama aims to burnish his reputation and accustom us to dependence and tutelage. He has been successful so far — he does not admire Ronald Reagan for nothing. Fortuna will frustrate him, but our firmness in principle must do the lion’s share. A republic if you can keep it.

Richard Brookhiser is author, most recently, of Madison.

GINA DALFONZO

Inaugurations are strange events. In theory, they’re supposed to bring the nation together in support of its newly elected or reelected leader. In practice, when one’s candidate of choice didn’t win — and when one has grave concerns about the ideas and policies of the candidate who did win — one may be tempted to turn off the TV, park on the couch with a pint of Breyers Pralines and Cream, and sulk.

But my faith teaches me to hope and not to despair; to remember that there is much more to life than the outcome of even the most important election; and to believe that God is in control of all things. So despite my anxiety and doubt about the future, I will refuse to let myself lapse into bitterness. I will pray for President Obama and Vice President Biden, and trust that God is working to bring about His own good purposes for our nation.

But I may keep the Breyers handy, all the same.

Gina Dalfonzo writes for Breakpoint.

SAMUEL GREGG

Time is a precious thing, and I, for one, don’t intend to waste it watching the hubris-filled extravaganza and tedious acclamation of identity politics that’s likely to occupy much of the media’s attention over the next few days.

A far better investment of time for those worried that the republic is slowly entering the twilight world of failed states such as California and Illinois would be to forget about the ins and outs of policy debate for a few days, dust off some of the classics of the American Founding, sit down, and, yes, actually read them.

Plenty of people — and not just conservatives and free-marketers — know there’s a more-than-serious risk that the next four years will take the United States even closer to the nadirs of political Detroitification and economic Europeanization. But for all the endless introspection that apparently grips the Right these days, we don’t need to reinvent the philosophical and political principles for the way forward. For although they didn’t agree about everything, the basic agenda for a resurgence of conservative America was penned by those present at the creation in places like Mount Vernon and Philadelphia over 230 years ago. Remembering that is worth more than all the polling and focus groups in the world.

Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute and author of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.

HUGH HEWITT

Four years ago many conservatives complimented President Obama on the tone of his inaugural address and wished him well. As the second term begins, those who are praying people still are praying for his health and safety and for his wonderful family, but it is hard to find even one conservative of stature who is optimistic about the 48 months ahead.

It isn’t just the residue of the most negative campaign of modern times that the president and David Axelrod waged, or the mood created by the relentless partisanship of the weeks since the election that has bankrupted the center-right of any reserves of hope for change.

It is, rather, the president’s unbroken record over the first four years of never failing to miss an opportunity to do in a bipartisan manner anything that could be done in an aggressively left-wing fashion. The president was, is, and will remain an accomplished student of the Chicago way, steeped in the tactics of Saul Alinsky and beholden to the most ideological groups of the Left.

He is what he is, and he isn’t likely to change, even if he manages to get off a decent speech, which isn’t probable, given his record over the years.  All of us ought to be praying for his protection and for the country to be safe under his care and to prosper under his policies. But we ought also to be very clear-eyed about what he believes and how he acts to achieve those beliefs.

It could have been very different.  A new and fresh start could have been had with Mitt Romney, but a small majority of the country’s voters signed up for season two of “Lost: The D.C. Edition,” and so it begins.

— Hugh Hewitt hosts The Hugh Hewitt Show.

QUIN HILLYER

As Barack Obama exults in his second inauguration, most sentient Americans have reason for deep concern, bordering on fear. Untethered from the need for reelection, Obama is free to give rein to his deepest resentments and his most radical left beliefs, not to mention any authoritarian tendencies he might harbor. He is not interested in consensus and unity; he is determined to achieve ideological conquest via deeply divisive, carefully chosen battles, often deliberately fomented within an atmosphere of crisis.

The good news is that American ordered liberty is not easy to radically transform. James Madison, Roger Sherman, and George Mason made sure of that. Madison’s promised multiplicity of interests, especially, represent copious depositories of civic power over which it is difficult to run roughshod. Obama’s desire for the federal government to crowd out Edmund Burke’s famous “little platoons” (voluntary associations) cannot succeed if the platoons intelligently fight back.

In martial terms, conservatives must be willing to fight a war of attrition, with guerilla tactics and flanking maneuvers aplenty. Where Obama tries to foment a crisis, conservatives should sidestep him, attack his flanks where he is weak, and achieve small but clear victories on issues of our own choosing. He is weak, or potentially so, on numerous aspects of Obamacare. He is weak, or potentially so, on a number of cultural issues, including abortion, if conservatives will only be smart enough to dial down our rhetorical excesses, especially those that sound puritanical or insufficiently compassionate. Even if moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue, moderation of tone certainly is one.

A very difficult four years awaits us. With intelligence and patience wedded to principle, they are four years we can survive, and during which we can rebuild the case for the liberty-inducing virtues of limited government.

Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor for The American Spectator.

#page#DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN

The debate has been resolved: President Obama is not a rudderless perpetual campaigner pushed to an unpalatable policy agenda.  No, he is an unrelenting liberal (okay, “progressive”) warrior. Moreover, it is clear that political victory is even more important than policy every time. 

That leaves conservatives three options: (1) oppose at every turn, (2) roll over at every turn, or (3) prepare for guerrilla warfare on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer.

Strategy (1) is a loser. Every move by the president since November 7, 2012, has been part of a plan to paint conservatives in general and Republicans in particular as a selfish, recalcitrant bloc out of touch with the woes afflicting the middle class.

Worse, strategy (1) leads to a loss of the House and thereby makes strategy (2) inevitable. And strategy (2) is a real loser. The president’s agenda is misguided, and increasingly harmful to America’s future. No honorable conservative should have her fingerprints on it.

#ad#That leaves strategy (3), which is messy, difficult to characterize, impossible to forecast, and so much less satisfying than a genuine agenda for national security and personal and economic freedom. But as debts mount, growth stagnates, and federal intrusion increases, there will be moments not only to draw a contrast with the president but to serve the future as well.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin is president of American Action Forum.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ

There was something appropriate about the president and vice president taking their oaths privately in their government-sponsored residences on Sunday, January 20. It would have been something if that were the entire public inauguration, then to work.

I’m saying that not just because I’m disappointed he’s president for another four years, which, of course, I am. Nor only because Washington needs to have a renewed attitude about stewardship, an attitude that galas don’t signal. It’s also because politics isn’t where things have most radically changed. Politics isn’t actually the front line or starting point on most matters that fundamentally affect our lives. As Washington makes it harder for civil society to thrive, civil society is where we need to focus our attention and rebuild. It is all the more important as the challenges increase. We’re not going to fight for what we no longer value. The next time you hear yourself complaining about Washington, remember who it is whom Washington represents.

If we don’t rebuild our homes, our community, our culture, don’t expect to be liking Washington anytime soon.

“Hope” doesn’t emanate from politics. And “change” starts at home.

So in a way I’m grateful for Inauguration Day today: Because it’s a reminder about priorities. It’s a reminder about fundamentals. When we start getting them in order, maybe we’ll have a Washington that leans toward freedom again. Tyrannical flourishes say less about the leaders in a republic than about the people who send them to office, and return them there. 

As for Washington these next four years: If you happen to pay attention and notice someone getting that stewardship thing right and trying, despite the circumstances, consider saying “Thank you” instead of demanding the impossible.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

JOHN J. PITNEY JR.

On Inauguration Day, all eyes are on Washington, but the real action is elsewhere.

In 2012, the Obama campaign enjoyed a technological edge over the Romney campaign. The newest analytical techniques served mostly to support the oldest political activity: personal contact. The president’s volunteers simply had a lot more face-to-face talks with voters, which constitute the most effective way of getting people to cast ballots. That difference padded his modest popular-vote margin and tipped some close states into his column.

In recent weeks, Republicans and conservatives have talked about their efforts to improve their ability to gather and analyze voter data. That’s fine, but it’s even more important to strengthen the presence of Republicans and conservatives at the neighborhood level. And to do that, they need to be good neighbors. In a proposal reminiscent of the GOP’s old “Working Partners” program, Robb Austin has written that they should take part in community volunteer activities such as after-school programs. The aim, he says, “is not to talk or promote politics year-round but to invest the time necessary to connect and develop personal relationships.” 

As Jack Kemp used to say, people don’t care how much you know until they know that you care.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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