The consensus on the left today is that they have finally gotten the man they thought they were voting for in 2008. Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural speech was free of the post-partisan eyewash that was a staple of his first presidential campaign. The speech presented him as he is, a liberal ideologue that has little respect for opposing views and no interest in compromising on issues he cares about, like the budget. This was no surprise to conservatives who have never been deluded by the conceit that Obama was above ideology. But it does encourage liberals to believe that, as some are saying, this administration was on the verge of reversing the achievements of the Ronald Reagan era. Listen closely to MSNBC and CNN and you can almost hear the strains of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” as left-wing talkers envision the return of an era in which a permanent Democratic majority would ensure that America was on a permanent long march to a liberal utopia that the right was helpless to halt.
Such triumphalism is almost forgivable on Inauguration Day. But even if we take the president at his word, there is a big difference between our current situation and the world prior to 1981, when the left never doubted that their project would be derailed. Liberalism may be feeling its oats today, but looming over the inaugural parties is the fact that it cannot pay the bill for the party.
While the president paid some lip service to fiscal realities yesterday, the overall tone was one that sought to rekindle confidence in the idea of a liberal narrative which depicts the country on an inexorable path to greater equality as well as more government services to do good. While we should all applaud the idea of equality, which is, as the president notes, integral to our identity as a nation, the attempt to channel the confidence of mid-19th century American liberalism in the early 21st century is bound to be a bust.