The Corner

Inaugurating President Chamberlain

Obama’s speech: Very long on gaseous generalities; exiguous with details. “Par for the course,” you say. Yes and no. Yes, an inaugural speech is intended to set the tone for an administration rather than spell out in detail a policy program. I appreciated, as must every American of good will, his promise that his oath of office was before “God and country, not party or faction.” I wish I could believe it. Most leftist commentators I’ve checked in on have regarded the speech as they regard Barack Obama, as a consummate example of “pragmatism.” I find it curious that well-meaning leftists regard the president as a pragmatist. To me, he is a pragmatist only in his pursuit of a radical, Alinskyite agenda to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”

He’s gone quite a distance already, and I suspect that the fellow who said, shortly after November’s election, that the country was in for a “four-year stress test” was right. And this is where I think Obama’s second inaugural sharply departs from most inaugurals of yore. The tone that he set: What was it? Reading through the speech (I will be honest: I couldn’t bear to listen to it live, I just couldn’t), I was haunted by an echo. The speech reminded me of something, of someone. Who was it? Woodrow Wilson? Yes, in part. But there was another ghost in the wings . . .

Got it: “Peace in our time,” the president said, “requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”

Now, I am as keen on tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice as the next gun-toting bitter-ender. But “peace in our time”? Where have we heard that before? Who was the last politician to strut across the world stage proclaiming “peace in our time”? Why, Neville Chamberlain, of course. He stepped off the plane that brought him back from his meeting with Adolf Hitler on September 30, 1938, and the crowd cheered as Chamberlain told them about his meeting with the German führer: “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time.”

Turns out, Chamberlain was wrong. But others knew that even then. Winston Churchill, for example. Maybe that’s part of the reason that one of Obama’s first acts when he became president was to send the bust of Churchill that had occupied an honored place in the White House back to the Brits. Churchill didn’t fit Obama’s narrative. But then, the world didn’t fit Chamberlain’s.

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