I think most pundits do their worst work when they play armchair psychologist; instead of assessing what (say) a president is doing on its own terms, they try to guess at the man's motivations and hidden beliefs—often in venal terms, if they disagree with that president's acts.
My friend and occasional nemesis Steven Hayward, I think, gets caught in this trap in his latest column for Forbes, in which he speculates about why the president isn't showing up for this week's anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Gettysburg, decides that the president just doesn't believe in America the way the rest of us do.
One reason may be that Obama has to carefully avoid associating himself fully with Lincoln’s view about the centrality of what Lincoln called, at Gettysburg, “the proposition” that “all men are created equal.” Obama omitted this famous line from the Declaration of Independence in his famous Philadelphia speech about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy in 2008. He did finally quote the Declaration’s “self-evident truth” in his second inaugural address earlier this year, but then added in a revealing line, “while these truths may be self-evident. . .”
May be self-evident? This is what intellectual poker players would call a revealing “tell.” If hooked up to a polygraph, Obama would likely have to confess to the modern liberal view that individual rights come not from our natural equality as human beings, but from a positive grant from government. The redistributive welfare state depends on this principle for its legitimacy, as does today’s “progressive” insistence on dividing people into groups according to skin color or gender or sexual preference, and assigning hierarchies of legal rights accordingly. Much of modern liberal philosophy depends on turgid obfuscation to disguise the fact that it is at odds with Lincoln’s understanding of equal rights.I can argue another time with Steve about the foundations of the legitimacy of the welfare state. But the problem here is that he truncates the president's inaugural speech—by a punishing amount—in order to get it to "reveal" what he sees in it. Here's what the president actually said:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.For a black man born before the Civil Rights Act, before the marriage of his parents would have even been considered legal, it must be "self-evident" that it has taken the work of many people to secure the promises that the Founders said were owed to all of us.
More to the point, one only has to read Obama's entire sentence to realize that he explicitly affirmed what Steve says he didn't. Steve's a skilled polemicist, and I realize that much of the writing he does (at least in blog form) often amounts to playing "got your nose" with liberals. Still, I think his attempt to psychoanalyze the president drifted into actual (and because I like him, I'm sure inadvertent) misrepresentation of the president's words.