THE SPINE JANUARY 20, 2009
Well, there's nothing that tugs me out of a deep sense of the good more
quickly than one of John Judis' churlish and bumptious obiter
dicta. His assault on Barack Obama's inaugural address is
a case in point. It was clear to me that Obama was trying to
establish the moral and practical first principles of his administration,
opening his agenda to as many Americans as are willing to join him.
He also put on first record two agenda items that will especially
disturb, first, the Republican opposition and, second, many of Obama's
What will upset the conservatives are the president's pronouncements on
the environmental calamity into which we are quickly drifting and his
commitment to lift us out of the flood. (I wondered what good
thoughts Al Gore was having, listening to these thoughts more clearly
enunciated than Bill Clinton ever did.) What will distress important
sectors of the Democratic camp is Obama's thematic homage to those who
fought and died for our country -in Concord and Gettysburg, in Normandy
and at Khe Sanh, yes, Khe Sanh. But it's not just seepages where
blood was shed long ago.
It is here and now. I suspect that in his intelligence briefings
and military memoranda he learned much that he did not know as a junior
senator and much that he did not care to know as a young man.
(Frank Foer made this very point to me.) So this is what the
president cares to convey now, not only this as eloquent words, but this
as both ideal and strategy:
As for our
common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and out
that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with
but with sturdy ideals and enduring convictions...We will not apologize
for our way of life,
we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by
innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be
outlast us, and we will defeat you.
These are not welcome words to many of Obama's initial enthusiasts.
It is no surprise that also John Judis does not like them.
A few weeks ago, he gave us all a reading list, one part
condescending, another utterly irrelevant. My guess is that Barack
Obama has never read Das Kapital, not even the first volume which
Judis especially recommends. And the president certainly hasn't
read Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy's Monopoloy Capital, which poor
John has been "reading and rereading" for decades. Obama
probably hasn't even heard of G.A. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of
History, which Judis pronounces "of all the books I've read in
the last twenty or thirty years, it's the best."