President Barack Obama will feature eight “citizen co-chairs” at his second inauguration festivities, each of whom has purportedly benefited from policies he enacted in his first term. As with the use of children at his announcement of new gun control proposals, the purpose of the co-chairs is nakedly political: to provide concrete examples to counter conservatives’ arguments about abstract concerns such as the debt and the Constitution.
As the Associated Press points out, the use of anecdotes in presidential addresses is not new. However, the sharply partisan nature of these particular tales exceeds the norm for inaugural addresses, which typically attempt to strike a tone of national unity and historic perspective. Obama wants to reinforce the belief, which he articulated before his first inauguration, that “only government” can solve our biggest problems.
The list of “citizen co-chairs,” and their individual stories, are worth examining in detail:
Ida Edwards of Petersburg, Va., a retired nurse and advocate of Obama’s health care law who lived through the civil rights movement that inspired Obama’s career.
The civil rights movement does not belong to Obama, much less the Democratic Party, which ran the segregationist governments of the Jim Crow South. It is not clear what Ms. Edwards has done to earn the honor, aside from backing ObamaCare. But her personal story is being told in a way that reinforces Obama’s argument that health care is a “civil right” and not a service subject to the normal laws of supply and demand.
Erica Chain of San Francisco, who was diagnosed at 27 with a life-threatening brain tumor and was denied coverage from every health insurance provider she applied to. She was able to get coverage because of the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition of denials of coverage due to pre-existing conditions and was able to get the surgery she needed to stay alive.
Note how the biography conflates two issues: access to life-saving medical care (which Ms. Chain would likely have had, regardless of her insurance) and payment for medical care. The central conceit of the ObamaCare debate was that the minority of Americans who lacked insurance were dying as a result, and that ObamaCare would actually save lives. It was a lie, and remains so. Providing care is a separate issue from paying for it.
Lily Griego of Denver, a single mother whose son has been able to attend college because of Pell Grants for low-income families for which Obama increased funding, other financial aid and her work at two jobs.
Congratulations to Ms. Griego (and to her son), both of whom ought to be recognized for pursuing the American dream. But the biography claims that President Obama alone is responsible for Pell Grant increases. It omits two facts: that President George W. Bush increased Pell Grants before President Obama did; and that President Obama’s increases are financially unsustainable, putting the future of the entire program at risk.
Kenyetta Jones of Toledo, Ohio, a 27-year veteran of the General Motors Powertrain Plant in Toledo who was laid off for more than a year in 2009 but was called back to work because Obama approved a second auto industry bailout that year.
This is the classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy decribed in Chapter 1 of college economic textbooks: the fact that one event came after another does not mean that the first caused the second. Kenyetta Jones would likely have found work again even if the taxpayers had not bailed out General Motors, because the company would have emerged from a managed bankruptcy with private instead of public capital.
Liz McCartney of New Orleans, who co-founded the nonprofit St. Bernard Project after Hurricane Katrina and has helped rebuild hundreds of homes for hurricane and tornado victims with the support of volunteers and AmeriCorps members. Obama met her when visiting New Orleans for the five-year anniversary of Katrina and promoted the work of the St. Bernard Project in his speech that day.
Ironically, Ms. McCartney’s achievements–which deserve to be applauded–occurred largely outside of government, and highlight the failure of government agencies such as FEMA, whose performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy would be as much a national scandal as the Hurricane Katrina disaster if the national media cared to look. Notably, Obama was tardy in responding to New Orleans’s Hurricane Isaac last year.
Rob Hach of Alta, Iowa, who started a small renewable energy business called Anemometry Specialists and like Obama supports the extension of a wind energy production tax credit.
Good luck to Mr. Hach; may he prosper on someone else’s dime. President Obama’s wasteful and corrupt patronage of the renewable energy industry has inflated our debt and produced such disastrous failures as Solyndra. Many of the businesses that the president and his administration touted have followed a similar downward spiral. Mr. Hach would do well to keep his distance and focus on engineering rather than politics.
David Hall of Washington, who was training to be an Air Force pilot but was kicked out for “homosexual conduct” in 2002 and went on to work for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
This honor continues the inauguration’s striking emphasis on gay issues. Whatever one thinks of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it was the policy of the U.S. military, and without knowing the particulars of Mr. Hall’s case, there have been people discharged from the military for less. (The departure of Stanley McChrystal in the midst of his command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for an alleged remark about the President is one glaring example.)
Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris of Joint Base Charleston, S.C., a bomb disposal expert and native of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who became a quadruple amputee after stepping on a bomb while serving in Afghanistan. Obama met him on a visit to Walter Reed hospital last year and surprised him with the Purple Heart while on a White House tour over the summer.
Of all the “citizen co-chairs,” Petty Officer Morris is arguably the most deserving. He did not need the President Obama to award him the Purple Heart; he had, obviously earned it. The question is whether his sacrifices will be honored in deed by the administration, which cares little about victory in Afghanistan and is rushing to leave as the Taliban return. We may be back again one day as a result of Obama’s poor choices today.
The entire spectacle is a continuation of the demagogic style of the Obama presidency, which achieves little for the country but much for him personally and politically. The Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Henninger wonders today whether the Republican Party needs a full-time spokesperson rather than the glum politicians that lead it in Washington. But it is not one spokesperson that makes Obama effective; it is an entire pantomime style.
The danger is that many Americans will come to believe that “only government” can save us–that but for Obama, a young woman would have died; that but for Obama, an entrepreneur would not hope to succeed; that but for a politician, these individuals would not be who they are. That is how people in autocratic nations view themselves; it is a self-image unworthy of, and dangerous to, the citizens of a free and open society.