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January 22, 2013 11:33 AM A Damn Good Speech

By Jonathan Zasloff

I’m a little surprised that Mark Kleiman hasn’t beaten me to the punch on this: a helluva speech by the President. My personal favorite moment was when he noted that defending Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “does not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” Absolutely. (This is why, by the way, that the most pro-entrepreneurial legislation of my political lifetime has been the Affordable Care Act: it allows people to open their own businesses without fear that they will no longer be able to obtain health insurance).

And by the way, Congressmember Ryan: f*ck you.

A friend wrote to me to say that celebrating this speech makes liberals a “cheap date” because it isn’t necessarily followed up by action. It was a speech: unless he was going to announce a series of executive orders in it — which as far as I know has never been done in an inaugural – all you’re going to get is rhetoric. But good rhetoric it is, and rhetoric that progressives can use for the future — and demand that our elected officials uphold:

[W]e, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own…
[O]ur journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

President Obama cannot do this by himself, but he is doing the right things. The fiscal cliff dealwas pretty good. He has so far faced down the plutocrats on the debt ceiling. He appointed Jack Lew and Chuck Hagel and told the bad guys to pound sand. He is turning Organizing for America into a 501(c)(4) instead of disbanding it. He is, in other words, beginning to attempt to do to Movement Conservatism what Jefferson told his Attorney General he would do to the Federalist Party:

I shall … by the establishment of republican principles … .sink federalism into an abyss from which there shall be no resurrection for it.

Now THAT’S change I can believe in.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.