Here’s what Pete says :

Mr. Obama’s speech was not a call to unity; it was a summons to his liberal base to fight–on global warming, for gay rights, for gun control, for renewable energy, and for a diminished American role in world affairs. And the president’s speech also signaled that he will oppose, with passion and demagoguery, anyone who attempts to reform our entitlement programs. He is fully at peace with running trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. He not only won’t lift a finger to avoid America’s coming debt crisis; he will lacerate those who do.

A final point: Mr. Obama’s speech was a highly ambitious one intellectually. What he was attempting to do was to link progressivism to the American political tradition, to the vision of the founders and the Declaration of Independence. “The greatest progressive arguments throughout the country’s history have been rooted in the language of the Declaration of Independence,” Michael Waldman, who was chief speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “This speech was really rooted in that tradition.”

The key to understanding the president’s inaugural address, then, was this line: “Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words [from the Declaration] with the realities of our time.”

So, following Pete, we can see that progressive REFORM has to do with stuff like global warming, gay rights, and military downsizing. Progressive ANTI-REFORM—or, we can say, not progressivism according to any normal definition of the word—has to do with entitlements and dealing with the debt crisis. The key move to progressive popularity is kind of progressive defense or opposition to the reforms we’re, in truth, eventually stuck with due to the debt crisis, the demographic time-bomb, etc. And the key to selling the more “offensive” issues is bundling them with the defensive ones. How can the Republican sell necessary downsizing to safety nets?

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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