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BOTH SIDES NOW: Obama Inaugurates Progressive Patriotism in the Speech

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By Mark Green

Two real surprises this week -- Bibi underperformed electorally and Barack over-performed with a philosophical framework as pronounced as FDR's second inaugural and Reagan's heralded TV speech for Goldwater ("A Time for Choosing"). Until now, Dutch's has been called THE Speech. Obama's THE Speech both explained the progressive theory of the case -- on government, the safety net, equal rights, climate change -- and jammed the GOP as "name-calling... absolutists". Ron applauds, Nicolle not so much.

LISTEN HERE:

*Inaugural: on the role of government. The President used "together" or "we the people" 12 times in his Inaugural in explaining how mutual obligations through government -- like Social Security, rules over the marketplace -- enhanced our personal freedoms. We listen to Senator McConnell label this "a far-left" view and columnist Krauthammer call it an "ode to big government."

Asked about the Reagan-Obama comparisons, Ron sees his father as both riding and reflecting a pendulum shift to the right in the 1970s and 1980s as Obama is doing the same with the more recent swing to the left. And 44's framework of essential government is the opposite of 40's "government is the problem" paradigm, though, adds Ron, "Obama is not shilling for big government, he's only saying that government sometimes has to do big, necessary things. And how is it far-left to have entitlements which have been around since the 1930s?"

Nicolle acknowledges that the Inaugural was eloquent and effective as a liberal declaration. But while "Reagan created Reagan Democrats and realigned the country, there are no more Obama Republicans" after last Monday, though the President did create new Democratic voters among his younger, minority base.

Host: Critics say Obama's "big government" creates "dependence." The evidence, please? Those phrases are standard political rhetoric but also appear to have no grounding in reality. Are there some people who prefer food stamps at $4 a day to getting a job -- certainly; but does the safety net largely help people survive during hard times, as it did for Paul Ryan's family when he was a teenager, for Obama's single mother, for Romney's family when they returned from Mexico a century ago?

Does Obama wake up every morning intending to "enlarge the state and shrink liberty," in Ted Cruz's glib formulation? Or does the president genuinely believe that more Pell Grants and insured Americans help advance personal opportunity and economic growth? Imputations of bad motives is so last term, especially if the GOP wants to succeed with the "New Obama."

Also: is POTUS "far left" as McConnell asserts? Given his expansive use of drones against alleged terrorists -- and popular majorities who support his approaches on immigration, gay rights, gun violence, entitlements, and climate change -- it seems hard to dismiss him as out-of-step with the country that handily re-elected him.

*Inaugural: on equal rights. There's a consensus that his invocation of equality -- as a black president linked civil rights and gay rights while looking at a vista with the Lincoln and King memorials - was the Inaugural's transcendent moment... especially his alliterative reference to "Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall." (Says gay rights advocate Richard Socarides, Obama's address was "perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history.")

Nicolle notes that these divisions are fading as young people can't understand older racial, gender and orientation discrimination. Indeed, she adds, these issues should unite left-and-right around liberty as Ted Olsen and David Boies are doing in their Supreme Court arguing against California's initiative opposing same sex marriage.

*Inaugural: on climate change. After one debate question and no ads about climate change during all of the 2012 presidential campaign, there it was highlighted in the Inaugural. How should or will congressional Republicans respond to his assertion that the science is clear as are fires, droughts and more severe storms?

Nicolle thinks this an odd emphasis since the country is divided on the cause of the problem; also, as with Obamacare, the country doesn't want the White House to take its eye off the ball of the economy. So her party will likely oppose presidential policy initiatives on climate since Washington "can't chew gum and walk at the same time."

Ron too wonders why this rose to such prominence in his talk "and at first I thought, a ha, he wants a carbon tax to both reduce deficits and climate change." That's logical but not politically likely given coal state Democrats opposing it, says the Host, so what about an energy program involving green energy, EPA carbon emission limits on new coal plants, and the Keystone Pipeline? Ron's inner-politico won't let go: "maybe Obama will condition the Pipeline on a carbon tax?"

*Inaugural: the political impact? The president chided those who disparage beneficiaries of government as "takers" as well as others who confuse "absolutism for principle... name-calling for reasoned debate." Many leading Republicans found this grating, divisive, the words of a sore-winner who was out, in Boehner's phrase, "to annihilate the Republican party." Our panelists found these retorts weak or whiny. Nicolle thought the "annihilation" point weak since her party represented nearly half the country and wasn't going anywhere. Ron considered it whiny "since that's what bullies do when someone punches back."

Host: The headline to our pre-Inaugural blog post last week referred to the "New Obama" because of his recent more muscular approach to guns, debt ceiling, Hagel. With an Inaugural continuing that unapologetic tone, it appears that what's new is his hard-earned appreciation of GOP obstructionism and greater confidence having won re-election. Paraphrasing Sandberg on Lincoln, Obama was more iron fist than velvet glove with a presidential style of leadership closer to Reagan than Obama I. As Ross Douthat editorialized to fellow conservatives, "deal with it."

*On women under fire -- Hillary in DC and women now in combat. There is a consensus that Hillary mopped the floor with Senators who seemed too eager and unprepared to take her on over the Benghazi tragedy. Ron sees her as the adult in the room, contrasting it with Ron Paul's laughable moment when he declares that, if president, he would have fired Clinton. President Ryan? On the potential impact on 2016, Nicolle and Ron are one: she says that when people think of the first female president, they envision someone just like Hillary -- with "smarts, guts, experience." Ron concludes that while some opponents hoped she'd be pressured into a stumble for a 2016 ad, instead "she produced a highlights reel."

Both also support qualified women in combat roles since it's hard to rise in any institution unless you are allowed to get on the ladder of leadership (Ms. Wallace) and since their involvement might make war harder to casually enter into (Mr. Reagan). As for the argument that male soldiers may act differently if a woman were wounded next to him, that chivalrous attitude seems as patronizing as the earlier opposition to gay soldiers... since a serviceman only cares about a competent person in the foxhole next to him.

*Quick Takes: Bibi, Filibuster, Aaron Schwartz. Our panel thinks that a chastened Netanyahu might now be more cooperative with Obama on peace talks and Iran, as the Host marvels how well outsider Yair Lapid did running as a Gary Hart/Barack Obama fresh face focused on pocketbook issues, a model someone will follow in America in 2016.

Why did the filibuster fight fizzle into a streamlining but not overhauling of the practice? Nicolle notes that today's majority were rightly worried about the day they might be the minority.

As for the tragic suicide of internet pioneer Aaron Schwartz during a criminal probe of his downloading practices - his anguished father said that the Justice Department had "killed my son" -- neither felt comfortable discussing why a depressed young person took his own life. Nicolle, however, lauded the painful public conversation about how to deal with depression both in this case and guns after Newtown.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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