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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Neocon echoes in Obama’s speech

By Dennis Byrne

Well, doggone, did we elect a neoconservative president?

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech contained, in addition to the usual affirmations of liberal convictions, several eloquent endorsements of certain neoconservative ethics. My observation, of course, will provoke disbelief, if not offense.

But the speech deftly included multiple and reverential references to values, responsibility, sacrifice and duty, essentials that illuminate neoconservative oratory. I got the impression that they were not included as just a sop to the right, but were spoken with deep conviction.

Neoconservatism arose from 1960s liberalism, partially from principles enunciated by Democratic President John F. Kennedy, who spoke two memorable lines in his own inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

And: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Compare them with one of Obama’s lines that got some of the greatest applause: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Of course, this does not mean that Obama is a Paul Wolfowitz in disguise. Of course, Obama could not be properly defined as a neoconservative.

Neoconservatives might be called “fallen-away Democrats,” who abandoned the left after the left abandoned certain principles that Obama praised in his speech whose theme was “A New Era of Responsibility.” We older neocons shared the path of the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King Jr. in our belief in equal rights for all. We also supported the fight for freedom not only here but throughout the world, including nations dominated by dictatorships—whether communist or fascists—and Iraq.

So, neo-cons are entitled to be heartened to hear Obama’s words spoken. These words:

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true.

“They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task….

I saw in Obama’s speech, and in his campaign, a certain thread of social conservatism, a characteristic of many neoconservatives. He has done what no what white commentator could get away with doing a decade ago without getting scorched for “racism”: He appealed for a return to responsibility for black males and a restoration of the African-American family.

Admittedly, there is a danger in going too far with the neoconservative comparison. His pledge in foreign relations to balance negotiations with a strong America did not go as far as Kennedy’s “pay-any-price” commitment, a commitment that, by the way, got America involved in Vietnam. Some of his aggressive government interventions would not inspire neoconservatives to shout hosannas.

But uniting the country means more than getting people of different skin colors, religions and nationalities in the same room. It also means respecting the cherished beliefs of many, which Obama has done.

That was a good speech you gave, Mr. President.

1 comment:

Henry said...

I can not believe this day is here! We actually have a person in the oval office who can extemporaneously string together two coherent sentences.

Once again, we can say "Hail to the Chief."