President Barack Obama is set to give his inauguration address today. The crowd is much smaller than his first term as is his popularity. The new Gallop poll shows Obama at a 49 percent popularity rate. While he remains personally popular, the overall popularity rate below fifty percent is comparable to Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford — two presidents who ultimately languished in office.
Frankly, I think it is very disappointing that former President George W. Bush is not present. That absence takes away from the celebration of our unified faith in the democratic system.
Leslie and Jack have gone to listen to the inauguration downtown with my brother and his two kids. My 86-year-old mother drove in from Chicago with my brother for the inauguration. She was here for the first Obama inaugural and remains a steadfast supporter. However, given her mobility limits, she is watching on television with me and the three other kids. I have to write on the speech for USA Today so logistics (and laziness) has me watching a home with my mother.
For civil libertarians, this inauguration is not as joyful as it is for many others. As I have written previously, Obama has been a disaster for civil liberties and left many of us . . . to put it lightly . . . estranged. I do not consider Obama to be an inspiring figure after his first term. It is not clear if he will embrace the principles that he abandoned so quickly in his first term on surveillance, privacy, torture, and secrecy laws. While he is free of the pressure of a future election, his party leadership is expected to continue the same policies and cynical treatment of civil liberties. The Republican offer no better alternative. Obama has created an imperial presidency by general acquiescence – the silence of liberals who remain loyal to Obama as an individual despite policies that are anathema to traditional liberal values. For that reason, many of us now see Obama as a symbol of the loss of principle and values in our political system. The rampant hypocrisy that inundates our policies and politics has become stifling. My respect for Obama’s family and his personal character does not overcome those conflicts over constitutional principles and civil liberties values.
I also continue to amazed at the coverage by Fox and MSNBC — two networks that tend to follow predictable takes on Obama. MSNBC anchors have been gushing over his popularity despite the polls showing little change in the unpopularity numbers. Fox has been highlighting the divisive views of Obama to a degree that makes him look like a bunkered recluse. It is part of our new echo chamber of news where people just watch networks that reaffirm what they want the world to look like — despite evidence to the contrary.
I do view this as a celebration of another peaceful transition of government and always have the kids watch, I do not view inauguration speeches as quite as significant as suggested by the coverage. I do not expect that the 51 percent on the unpopularity side of Obama are likely to be transformed by a speech — any more than many were won over by Bush’s speech. We all can take pride in the stability of our system and another peaceful transition. Yet, on Tuesday, we will still have a dysfunctional political system controlled by a monopoly of power by the two parties. For those who want change, it will have to come by seeking changes in this system against the fixed interests of these parties and the White House.