Many people were quick to call Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis distasteful, and that it was. But there is a hazard of being too offended on Lewis’s behalf. Really, it is hard to imagine that a man who dedicated his life to revolutionary politics would object to the nation’s arch-progressive giving a fire-and-brimstone speech at his funeral. This is, after all, the man who skipped the president’s inauguration.
Of course, what people really found outrageous was not Obama’s audacity, per se, but the audacity of his ideas. Obama dropped every pretense of republican tolerance and laid his cards bare. The filibuster must go; Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. must become states. Politics has become totally uncompromising. Every possible measure to shore up majority rule must be taken at once, and the “bitter clingers” of old habits must be crushed—forever.
It was the most revolutionary speech Obama has ever given. Many reactions focused on the means Obama proposed, and understandably as they were so extreme. But all means have ends, and while rather transparent about his means, Obama was dicier about his ends.
Rightly so, as his speech was nothing short of a manifesto for regime change. Being Obama, he was careful to cover up this radical purpose in an exterior of sentimentality (and affected, folksy demeanor.) After 20 minutes of throat-clearing about the departed, Obama got to the heart of the matter, although you’d be forgiven for missing it. It came and went very quickly:
America was built by John Lewises. He, as much as anyone in our history, brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals. And someday when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it’s years from now, or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.
In a time when the American Founders are being torn down, Obama uttered not a word in their defense. He mentioned the founding just four times, once by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., and he never mentioned the Founders directly. The only time he used the term “Founding Father” was in reference to John Lewis. (Elsewhere, Lewis is “John the Baptist preparing the way.”)
Revolution Was His Subject
What’s going on here? Obama knows that America is in the midst of a violent upheaval. If it’s true that “silence is violence,” one can only assume that he isn’t bothered by the chaos. That isn’t to say that he skirted the topic. Far from it. Revolution was his subject. He simply affirmed that the revolution is good. However long it takes, whatever is necessary, nothing is off-limits.
While Obama paints a rosy picture of this “fairer” and “fuller” society, the America of his dreams is a revolutionary tyranny, in which the minority is unable to dissent and in which political violence is justified, so long as it’s in pursuit of the cause. He might have proscribed violence at some point, given that this was a speech honoring a so-called icon of nonviolent resistance, but for Obama, rioters in Portland are “peaceful demonstrators” and months of lawlessness and looting are best characterized as “people trying to be better, truer versions of ourselves.”
His meaning couldn’t be clearer: Lewis was a revolutionary “founder” whose work remains unfinished. That work continues in the current unrest, and it must continue for decades, even centuries, before utopia is even close to consummation.
Centuries! How many Americans could imagine this chaos going on for one more year?
For Obama, what’s happening right now is trivial compared to what is necessary, since what is necessary is nothing less than the re-founding of the country. Notice the passage, “when we do form a more perfect union.” The framers might have said the same thing while drafting the Constitution. “To form a more perfect Union” was their purpose! But for Obama, the Constitution might as well not exist. (Not that we needed more evidence.) The task of forming a more perfect union hasn’t even begun.
What is this if not a call for regime change?
The “Blessed Destination”
But Obama was careful to make his purpose sound more benign. So he told an old, awkward, progressive lie: although those “white male slavers” and the country they created must be torn down and replaced, this “better” America is nothing more than the fulfillment of what they started.
This is a politically expedient misdirection, one that Obama apparently thinks is losing its usefulness, but one which it is still necessary to repeat, until the current revolution has progressed enough in changing public opinion that it is safe to ditch any pretense of attachment to the original founding. Although he gave the perfunctory minimum of lip service to the founding, the focus of his speech was on the civil rights movement and its continuation in our current revolution, which appears to Obama to be the true source of America’s identity and moral authority.
For Obama, like all progressives, the founding is nothing more than an idea, an abstraction to be written over at the soonest convenience. It is a rhetorical flash, a tool to be used against the founding itself. Every time it is mentioned in his speech, it is a mere justification for the present revolution until that “blessed destination” of perfect equality has been reached.
His speech could be seen as a reply to Donald Trump’s Mt. Rushmore speech: one was a defense of America as a concrete nation with a tangible, lived heritage that must be preserved; the other was a Jacobin call for revolt against America, ostensibly in the name of American values.
Obama clearly didn’t find it inappropriate to discuss power politics at the funeral of a “founding father” who dedicated his life to changing the country. He found it natural and even necessary, and doubtless his supporters agree. One can hardly blame them for thinking that politics is so totalizing that even sacred (and what is “sacred” to the Left, but social justice?) occasions are fair game for such low ends.
Every election now is of existential importance, even as the legitimacy of elections seems to be fading. A battle over voting this November points to a further breakdown in our ability to settle differences through political processes.
Amidst divisions that threaten to erupt into civil strife, all Obama did was stake out his position—with a stark, militant, partisan call to arms. Not only must the Left win this election, they must change the rules to make sure that they never lose power again.
Obama’s remarks amount to an ultimatum. Coexistence is no longer possible: America must choose between the Republic of the past and a glorious progressive future. Those on the wrong side of history will be destroyed.
Let’s not rush to take offense on behalf of our enemies. While Obama’s remarks were tasteless, we might also wonder if they show a level of political commitment that is lacking on the Right, to our great detriment, and indeed our peril.