It was a speech liberals will love, conservatives will hate and history will forget.
It was 18 minutes of paying off the base and rewarding the coalition. It was a president who won 52 percent of the vote thumbing his nose at the other 48 percent.
There was pomp and circumstance, a torturous poem and some good singing. The family looked good, the crowd seemed large, the Capitol was stunning. As inaugurations go, it was a good, solid medium. It upheld tradition, it showcased the president, it followed tradition and law.
Sure, there was too much Schumer, and the crowd left the National Mall looking like a trash-strewn dump, but the oath got taken and the speech got made and another one is in the books.
It was not, however, a memorable one.
There is no lasting line, there was no national challenge, the pauses for applause were forced. And a president who calls for unity continued to polarize, to so firmly cling to one ideology that its opponent is unavoidably excluded.
There are two Americas, and one of them wasn’t invited to the inauguration.
We are a nation awash in debt and imbalance, where the family is decaying and our position is weakening. And the president spoke of global warming and gay rights, of the interests of feminism and the cause of illegal immigrants. Gun control and entitlement, class warfare and redistribution. He described a world where takers are not takers and where the threat to freedom is not external, but innately American.
And that may have been defining.
In the president’s speech, at the root of it all, we weren’t the good guys, we were the bad guys. At least some of us were. Some of us were good guys and some of us were bad guys and the good guys were at the inauguration and the bad guys must have been home watching it on TV.
When the president spoke of pioneers of freedom, he didn’t talk about those who bought and defended our freedom against foreign foes or on foreign shores, he talked about those whose battles were fought here, against the established order of their day.
It was Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.
Those were the pioneers, those were the heroes, that was the closest thing to a memorable phrase.
Seneca Falls was the first major convention for women’s rights, in a small upstate New York village in 1848. Selma was a pair of marches met by violent opposition in 1965, as people stood to claim black voting rights. Stonewall was a mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village in 1969, and the hub of nights of riots in which streets were mobbed and looted, and police were attacked.
These events are seen as milestones in the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement.
Beyond the fact that those three communities were essential components in Barack Obama’s re-election, the events described and the causes highlighted share something else.
They define us as the problem.
In earlier eras, we have seen America as the defender of freedom and outside forces as threats to freedom. We stood against the Central Powers, we pushed back against European meddling in the Americas. We fought Hitler and the Emperor. We stood unflinching in the face of Soviet and Chinese communism.
And now we stand toe to toe with an Islam that practices apartheid against women, denying them the barest vestiges of equality, and which seems in country after country intent on driving Christians and Jews out of sight and out of existence.
And yet, as the president of the United States began his second term, as he defined the paradigm of his worldview, the fight for freedom was not against the world, it was against an established but intolerant American order.
Seneca Falls was a fight against American intolerance. Selma was a fight against American intolerance. Stonewall was a fight against American intolerance.
In each of these narratives, Obama supporters were freedom fighters against an America that deprived and oppressed them.
The enemy was not an external “them,” it was an immoral “us.”
The implication of the speech was that that is still the case today. The implication of the speech was that the fight for freedom today is still internal to American society. The implication of the speech was that one part of America is in righteous conflict with another, and that the president is going to, with the power of his office, lead that conflict.
And that’s too bad.
Because the name of the country is the United States of America, with the emphasis on the first word.
And the inaugural address was not from the mouth of the leader of a united nation, but from the heart of a leader of one part of that nation in open contempt of the other part of that nation.
The view unavoidably casts a taint on the nation's past, and upon portions of the nation's present. It divides people by philosophy or class or race or orientation. It doesn't unite, it divides, it sets one group of Americans angrily against another.
And that’s too bad.
Because four years is a long time.
A very long time.