If there was oneword that was used most often to describe President Obama’s second inaugural address Monday, it was “liberal.” Obama supposedly tossed away the post-partisan efforts of his first term and embraced big government, fully committing himself to the cause of gay rights and showing a Gore-like dedication to the climate-change fight.
Yet the next day, the White House expressed surprise at the notion that the president’s speech amounted to an affirmation of liberalism. Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that he rejected “the idea that this was an ‘ism’ speech.” He added, “It’s on behalf of ideas that represent who we are as Americans.”
In a narrow sense, Carney was right. Opinion polls show that on almost all of the major positions Obama espoused in his speech — entitlements, immigration, climate change and same-sex marriage — a majority of Americans agree with him.
By that measure, Obama did not advance a liberal agenda. A consequential one, certainly, but one that reflects centrist views or center-left ones at most. The agenda seems liberal only when judged against the liberal-conservative divide we’re used to in Washington.