The initial response from many Republicans to President Obama's second inaugural address was faux disappointment -- they told reporters they hoped Obama would be "conciliatory" to the right and do "outreach" to the GOP in his speech, and the president did neither.
But yesterday, the message shifted a bit. As media coverage of the address focused on Obama's unapologetic defense of progressive ideals, the Republican talking points moved to take advantage of the analysis.
This video was released yesterday by Karl Rove's attack operation, Crossroad GPS. If you turned the 44-second clip into a drinking game, and took a shot with every reference to the word "liberal," you might find yourself in the hospital.
Soon after, we heard arguments like these from GOP leaders.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded to President Obama's "disappointing" second inaugural address by declaring, "The era of liberalism is back."
Senate Republicans bashed the president's remarks one day after he delivered them, calling them far-left remarks that are out of touch with the American people.
McConnell added that the president's address was "unabashedly far left of center," presenting a "liberal agenda" to a country that Republicans "still believe is center-right."
I don't imagine this was the point McConnell intended to make, but his declaration that the "era of liberalism is back" may have been more appropriate than he realized.
To be sure, the Senate Minority Leader no doubt hoped for the phrase to be mockery. Though McConnell and his allies have long accused President Obama of being a radical leftist hell bent on destroying capitalism, after hearing his inaugural address, McConnell is now effectively saying those labels are suddenly true.
It's as if the speech inspired Republicans to say, "A ha! We knew Obama's a liberal! Now we have proof! "
And that's fine, as far as it goes, but it should also lead to some introspection among the president's conservative detractors. Because at this point, the news isn't that the president is prepared to champion progressive principles, but rather, that those progressive principles enjoy broad public support.
Or put another way, while trying to expose Obama as out of touch, it's Republicans who suddenly find themselves outside the American mainstream looking in.
NBC's Mark Murray noted yesterday that "many of the policies and viewpoints Obama articulated in his inaugural address are supported by majorities of Americans."
Take Obama's advocacy for gay rights, for example. ("Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," Obama said in his speech yesterday). As it turns out, per the Dec. 2012 NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of Americans -- 51% -- favor gay marriage. That's up from a mere 30% in 2004.
There's also immigration reform. ("Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.") The Jan. 2013 NBC/WSJ found another majority -- 52% -- supporting giving illegal immigrants the ability to apply for legal status.
And then there's his defense of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. ("These things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.") Polls overwhelmingly find that Americans support these programs. [...]
[It's] hard to argue that these "liberal" ideas and policies are somehow far outside the political mainstream.
Quite right. For all of the efforts on the right to suggest Obama's vision lacks public support, the exact opposite is true -- on nearly every major issue of the day, the American mainstream and the president's positions are one and the same.
If the "era of liberalism is back," this should cause great consternation among Republicans, not relief. After all, most Americans in their "center-right" nation support gay marriage, higher taxes on the wealthy, a system of universal background checks before gun purchases, abortion rights, comprehensive immigration reform, efforts to combat climate change, protections for social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security, and greater public investments in education and infrastructure.
The question isn't why Obama supports this progressive agenda; the question is why McConnell and his party don't.