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Jay Ambrose: A farewell speech in a bubble

Jay Ambrose, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

We did it. In my youth, it would have been unimaginable that we would ever elect a black president. But we came through, and he was extraordinary -- charming, brilliant and not least a gifted orator, which he proved again in his farewell speech Tuesday night. Some of it was uplifting, and his critics should say so, but it was self-revealing when he talked about many of us living in bubbles.

What he meant, he made clear, was that we tend to surround ourselves with those who "look like us" and "share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions." He could have gone further, saying that even when faced with challenges, there are those whose imperturbable self-esteem and ideological fixations disallow true listening and encourage self-serving rationalization.

One of his examples of where to find such people was college campuses, and boy does that ever seem the case. You watch the sobbing and screaming and wonder if some protestors have ever once peaked outside their own take on things.

I would not go that far in describing Obama, but he once more demonstrated in this speech that his own bubble is hard to pop.

He talked, for instance, about turning to our fundamental American values of rule of law, democracy and liberty as enabling us to deal with the highly disturbing issues of our day. But here is someone who has flaunted rule of law, democracy and liberty with unlimited vigor.

"We can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job," he said in 2011 after Democrats lost control of the House the previous year. "Where they won't act, I will," he continued, and he followed through on the promise, again and again issuing executive orders on matters that even he himself had in one major instance said required congressional approval. He justified all this as needed for the nation's good despite constitutional abridgments, some of which the Supreme Court struck down.

Isn't it likely that he really does care about democracy but found it easy to retire into his bubble, pleased at his own self-assurance, the applause of his inner circle and the pundits who said go ahead?

He also spoke out against sharp-edged partisanship even as he took a shot at those who "rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we're cutting taxes for corporations."

The point of cutting taxes for corporations, as numbers of economists agree, is to induce expansion that can lead to more federal revenue and supply the money for such things as more preschool education for kids. On the other hand, maybe he wants to make sure no one ever surpasses his record $20 trillion gross debt.

This president also hit those he sees as dismissing facts despite his own unscientific push for a costly, unilaterally adopted climate plan that will achieve nothing by itself -- EPA director Gina McCarthy has admitted as much -- or his seeming to take credit for carbon dioxide reductions mostly achieved by free market fracking.

He bragged about Obamacare, which has admirably extended insurance coverage to 20 million people who previously had none, but seems blank-of-mind about a downward spiral caused by an absurd redefinition of what insurance is.

For all of those bubble questions, he is a striking figure, this president is, and despite the slow economic recovery, we have lately been doing especially well, as he told us. Among his inspiring speech remarks was his emphasis on solidarity, of trying to put ourselves in the shoes of racial minorities, immigrants, refugees, the rural poor and -- liberals should listen -- "the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he's got all the advantages but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change."

For all my criticisms from maybe a different bubble than his, I see much that has been good and inspiring in him.

About The Writer

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.

(c)2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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