It’s only Day 3 and the Obama Administration already feels old and tired. Year in and year out, the President keeps saying the same things. Over and over again. By this point, we’re tempted to simply tune him out.
But that would be a mistake.
From the very beginning, President Obama said how he wanted to transform the country. We must “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” he declared in his first inaugural address. Even before that, “The great thing about America,” candidate Barack Obama had said in one of his speeches, “is that everything changes.”
At the time, Heritage called for a reborn conservatism grounded in the abiding principles of American liberty, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and worked to make the 2012 election a clarifying debate over these opposing views.
President Obama’s second inaugural address should be read in this light, as the grand statement of his plan to change America. If there was ever any doubt, it is now clear that he means to not only lock in all of the failed accomplishments of liberalism but also to revive a new wave of progressivism akin to those of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ—only greater, in true Obama fashion.
In his speech, Obama uses many conservative phrases to cloak his intentions and wraps his project in the mantle of the Founding. But we mustn’t be fooled. He deploys those words to serve his own brand of progressive radicalism—and radical it is.
America is exceptional because it is dedicated to the universal principles of human liberty: That all are fundamentally equal and equally endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our government exists to secure these God-given rights, deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Our Constitution limits the power of government, creating a vigorous framework for expanding economic opportunity, protecting national independence, and securing liberty and justice for all.
Obama has a different objective: To complete the progressive transformation of America and define its next phase—which he laid out in his Osawatomie, Kansas, speech mimicking Teddy Roosevelt—through more complicated and extensive government regulation of society and the redistribution of wealth and benefits to produce “fair” outcomes.
This is an updated—and far more dangerous—version of the one developed 100 years ago by Woodrow Wilson, the father of modern progressivism. Wilson sought to replace the old Constitution of individual rights and the separation of powers with an evolving, “living Constitution” of growing and virtually unlimited powers. Obama aims instead to redefine them entirely.
“We have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” Obama said Monday. In other words, all things change, and our principles must change as well.
Obama wants to reframe the Founding away from its emphasis on the unalienable rights we hold over government to an emphasis on government as the collective expression (and regulator) of everything we do, and the central expression (in the form of President Obama) of the call of history. And today, that call he hears is for government to redefine marriage and heal the planet.
This is not the meaning of America, not as expressed by our Founders. It’s not the great self-governing constitutionalism of Lincoln, to whom Obama alludes and compares himself. It is not even the promissory note expressed by Martin Luther King, the note to which every American was to fall heir.
No, this is something altogether different—an argument in which “Forward!” is actually movement backwards, away from America’s principles toward a world in which nothing is permanent, our rights are not secure, and government is unlimited.
“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful,” wrote Calvin Coolidge on the 150th birthday of the Declaration.
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern.
But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.
“Every American,” Coolidge added, “can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken.”
Over the next four years, it will be our job to make certain they remain so.