Beware Obama’s Implicit Premises

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 1:22 am by Neal

Interesting observations on Obama’s inauguration speech by Yuval Levin writing at the Corner in The Inauguration:

The most problematic parts of the speech, for me, had to do with the theme that always bothers me at such occasions: the dismissal of political differences as insignificant and petty products of irresponsibility, rather than of serious and meaningful disagreements about how our country should govern itself. What possible sense could be made of this passage in the speech?

“On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”

Is everything that preceded the coming of Obama in our politics childish and petty? Every president calls for replacing partisanship with responsibility—Obama’s call on this front can be found almost verbatim in Bush’s 2000 campaign speeches. But maybe the reason it never works is that partisanship very often is responsible, and our disagreements are not childish things but serious substantive debates about important subjects, given form by some profound differences in worldview. …

The speech was not a great work of rhetoric. It’s hard to imagine anyone will remember any line from it in a few weeks, let alone a generation from now. But most inaugurals are like this, and what it tried to do was frankly pretty encouraging.

Tomorrow, no doubt, Obama will sign some papers putting the United States firmly behind international abortion efforts again, and will begin the work of enacting a massively wasteful spending bill, and our politics will begin again to take up the great arguments that have long given it shape: about the proper relationship of the state and the citizen, about America’s place in the world, about the regard and protection owed to every human life, about how we might best reconcile economic prosperity and cultural vitality, national security and moral authority, freedom and virtue. These are divisive questions of enormous consequence, and they are neither petty nor childish. They are the substance of the political life of a healthy and thriving democracy, and Barack Obama, whether he likes it or not, has just thrown himself into the middle of them all. God bless America.

Obama, of course, is trying to demonize any criticism of him or his policies by associating any such criticism as, de facto, “childish” and “worn out dogma.” Obama is playing a very smart game: tacitly accept my premises, or you’re a “kid” or — even worse — an “oldie.” His fallacy is that, despite being the President, Obama still doesn’t have the power to change the definition of “criticism.”

This is a common, liberal debating tactic: making a statement or asking a question in which a liberal premise is implied, so that anything contrary is presumed evil, stupid or just wrong.

President Obama: when we disagree with your policies and decisions, we will speak out just as we did during President Bush’s two terms. And when you uphold your oath to the Constitution and do the right thing, we’ll happily applaud. However, we shall not be intimidated or tricked by tactics such as those you employed today.

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