President Obama's inaugural address was a fine speech that ignored the
most important political issue that will define the next four years of
his presidency, which is how to govern in a town of divided government
in which the other party is mostly hostile to his presidency and overly
influenced by factions that detest the very notion of his presidency.
The inaugural address was a hybrid combination of the remnants of a
campaign speech, with a bow to the liberal base, and the rhetorical
portions of a State of the Union address, minus the policy specifics.
Totally ignored was the subject of how this Democratic president will
govern with the current Republicans in Congress, a subject that will
hopefully be addressed in the State of the Union.
It was fine that the president spoke of the importance of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. But do his words mean the liberal base will inevitably feel betrayed if he makes compromises with Republicans on these issues, or do they mean that he will never make any compromises on these issues, in which case he governs as though Republicans do not exist, in which case the next four years will be as nasty and gridlocked as the last four? Words are cheap. It is actions that matter.
What I wish the president had done is speak to his vision of the rules of engagement in his second term between a Democratic president and Republicans in Congress. For example:
Great moments in American history have brought great compromises. The president could have outlined his vision of the great compromises that would restore America to a governed nation in the place of the gridlock that dominates today.
The president need not have line-itemed elements of these compromises, but could have and should addressed, before his huge national audience, the rules of engagement.
He could have said that the people have spoken and that his agenda had prevailed but that America is a two-party nation, both parties and all branches of government must share in governing, and he was willing to reach out as Lincoln reached out to his opponents in the hope of reaching an ability to govern in which all Americans and both parties would feel they are respected.
One might call this the 70-30 compromise, in which the election would be respected with Democrats being able to claim 70 percent of the final compromises, and Republicans 30 percent, take or give whatever leaders decide.
Instead we leave Inauguration Day in the exact same position we entered Inauguration Day. Far too many Republicans refuse to accept the legitimacy of the president having won the election, while the president gave an inaugural address that treated Republicans as though they do not exist and gave our people no meaningful guidance about the road ahead.
The state of the union is strong.
The state of our government is a shambles.
The State of the Union address is approaching, and because hope springs eternal in the land of the free and the home of the brave, perhaps the president will discuss these matters when he next enters a joint session of the House and Senate to address the nation and the world.