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Inaugural Exegesis

by James Lileks

Now that the president has laid out his agenda in broad, sweeping strokes — basically, solar-powered wedding chapels for gay marriages — we can get down to the business of the disappointing second term. It’s usually a letdown for the stalwarts. Recall George Bush saying he’d accumulated political capital and intended to spend it. A few years later, after Social Security reform went nowhere, he was wearing a barrel and staring at a pile of chips on the other side of the table.

It’s possible, though, that President Obama will skip blithely from triumph to triumph, nudging a lowing herd of credulous millennials into the pen of joyless collectivism, emerging periodically to give a hectoring address while jutting his chin at the Future, mistaking hortatory hollering for persuasion.

There were a few notes in the inaugural address that reminded you who he feels he needs to be. On the perils of something once called “global warming,” he said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

Maybe he was throwing this out as a bone to the Left, which believes that people are a scourge on the planet and global warming is bad because it will . . . hurt people. At least someone on the anti-human front is honest enough to tell us all we’re nothing but viruses: Sir David Attenborough has compared humans to a disease. As quoted by the Telegraph: “We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.”

He’s a member of Population Matters, which wants to decrease the British population so that it resembles Japan’s by 2035: lots of old people living with robot cats, shuffling off to Soylent Green reduction centers when they become ill — defined, in the future, as wrinkly. He wants NGOs to do something about people in less-developed countries (cough wogs cough) so they don’t gnaw at the planet’s withered teats. Prosperity will do that, eventually, but prosperity also means people use more energy as they live better lives, and this means the oceans rise — why, you can just imagine Sir David throwing a chart of projected sea levels across the room, angrily declaiming that this will decimate Miami Beach property values, the fools.

This requires collective action, which the president supports; his use of the word “collective” must have sent a thrill rippling through his tripartite base:

1) The red-in-tooth-and-claw Actual Collectivists, who no doubt nodded when Van Jones said the speech was “Djobama Unleashed” — a reference to a movie where a slave shoots a lot of people, played by an actor who told a Saturday Night Live audience that he gets to shoot white people, and how great is that? Oh come on it’s a joke. Anyway, hoorah for collectivism! It’ll be super-peaceful this time, pinky swear.

2) The extraordinarily rich people who love the president because he cares and Stonewall!!! squeee!!! and whose lifestyle suffers no diminution from his policies; it’s not like they gave the pool boy health care in the first place, and now it’s so nice that he has it, somehow.

3) The post-individualist cohort of intellectual sycophants who have no religion, feel uncomfortable with America because it did bad things and patriotism is horrid unless you’re French (in which case it’s just charming and so them), and sighed with relief when they realized that government is the thing we all belong to. These men steal into their children’s bedroom at night and behold their innocent countenances, thinking, “Someday the call may come for you to defend OSHA regs on the proper placement of hazmat regulations in the workplace. May you be equal to the task.”

An apt example of the last group — perhaps not “men without chests,” in C. S. Lewis’s phrase, but possibly lads with dimpled sternums — might be Matthew Yglesias, who wrote about the uptick in the hooker economy in the North Dakota oil patch. More men grunting over greasy pipes means increased demand for slatterns-for-hire: Quelle surprise. Because this was so stupidly obvious he added a Cautionary Note: “It’s a reminder that the economic and social consequences of natural resource extraction are highly gendered.”

Dirty smelly oily work is mostly done by men: Go figure that. You catch the whiff of dismay: Oh dear, stereotypes are being reinforced out there in North Dakota and there’s nothing we can do about it. Out there in the icky middle of the country, gendered work is happening.

For the moment, anyway. The president likes the NoDak boom because he can claim he’s pro-oil to casual viewers, then pivot en pointe and be Mr. Sustainable for the greens. No one will call him on it. If the ACLU filed suit to close down Gitmo and he had drones take out their board of directors, it would be a sign of his Vigorous Posture. It doesn’t matter what he says, unless he utters the Tingle Words like “climate” or “Stonewall.” What matters is that he’s transforming America, as promised — from a wretched sprawl of oppression and so-called freedoms to a bright new land where government brings us together, much as a house fire brings together a family on the lawn. Not to say we aren’t good people; heck, we elected him. But a hundred years from now, if there were fewer Americans infecting the world? That’d be great. Best second term ever.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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