Inaugural Incoherence

Yuval Levin has a powerful and persuasive analysis of Obama’s Second Inaugural, and I encourage everyone to read it. His opening line is that “President Obama’s second inaugural address was an exceptionally coherent and deeply revealing speech,” a description that despite its apparently fulsome praise turns out to be quite damning:

Its cogency was impressive: Recent inaugurals, and especially those of reelected presidents, have inclined toward the laundry list far more than this speech did. Obama made an argument, and one that holds together and advances a discernible worldview. It was in that sense a very successful speech, and while it may not be memorable in the sense of containing lines so eloquent or striking that they will always be associated with this moment and this president, it is a speech that will repay future re-reading because it lays out an important strand of American political thought rather clearly.

But because it does so, it is also revealing of the shallowness, confusion, and error of that strand of American political thought — that is, of the progressive worldview in our politics.

Here I would like to offer only one emendation or qualification to Levin’s analysis: in one of the most noteworthy elements of his Inaugural address, his emphasis on gay rights, President Obama was considerably less than cogent or even coherent. “Our journey is not complete,” the president intoned, “until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

The problem with this bromide is that the president and his party have completely dedicated themselves to the proposition that everyone should not be “treated like anyone else under the law.” Some people, they fervently believe, should be treated better and others treated worse because of their race or ethnicity or gender.

Does Obama, in short, believe gays should be treated like white males and Asians of both genders and held to a higher standard, or given the preferential treatment he favors for blacks and Hispanics? If he really believes that gays should be treated “like anyone else,” i.e., treated without regard to their sexual preference, as I have argued here and most recently here, that would mean he favors gays settling

for sort of a second class equality, for being deprived of the preferential treatment that liberals now say equality demands for members of favored racial and ethnic groups. If colorblindness now locks racial inequality in place, as liberals argue, why isn’t treating gays just “like everybody else” gay bashing? The liberal view of equality and hence of the discrimination that should be barred, in short, has become incoherent.



Say What?