It seems like a very long time ago, but try to remember the hopeful spirit of bipartisanship around Barack Obama's first inauguration. The 2008 election had been filled with talk of a new, post-partisan politics, driven in part by "Obama Republicans" from Wall Street to the military.
Pictured: President Barack Obama gives his inauguration address after being sworn in at the presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on Jan. 21, 2013.
On the night of his first swearing-in, Obama held dinners to honor his defeated GOP opponent, John McCain, and the Republican general Colin Powell. He would later dine with a group of conservative columnists. His first inaugural address seemed to endorse the theory that his election represented a transformation of American politics: "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply," Obama said.
Alas, the cynics were largely right. Obama made several first-term efforts to negotiate with Republicans, but they all failed. Republicans dug in against the new president, and it became clear, particularly after the 2011 debt limit showdown, that the GOP's militant right wing had no interest in compromise. (Many Republicans maintain that Obama never bargained with them in good faith.)
After months of hewing to the image of a conciliator, Obama finally learned his lesson-and went on the attack. In a pivotal December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, he linked Republicans to a spirit of "breathtaking greed" and a "you're on your own" economic philosophy. In April of 2012 he attacked the "radical vision" and "social Darwinism" of Paul Ryan's budget plan. His 2012 campaign was less about building partisan bridges than barricading the middle class from the GOP's social and economic agenda.
With his second inaugural address, Obama has replaced his olive branch with a hot poker. He reiterated his campaign themes of equality and fairness, casting himself as a defender of regular Americans against Republican budget-cutters and the wealthy interests they serve. "The commitments we make to each other - through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security - these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us," he said. "They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great." He gave unprecedented attention to gay rights ("Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law"). And he signaled that addressing climate change-a condition whose existence many conservatives simply deny-will be a main priority of his second term.
SOURCE: Michael Crowley