Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama and Responsibility

I differ from the mainstream media consensus in seeing President Obama's speech last night as really very good--contrary to what most people have said, it was not 'just about Iraq', it was using the end of active US combat in Iraq as a signal that positive developments can still occur--pace the naysaying of the media for the past nine months or so--and that the economic difficulties we have now should be viewed in an ampler context. Even more, he was trying to provide some perspective so as to cirucmnavigate the endless drumbeat of bad news.

I was, though, admittedly predisposed to be particularly sympathetic to Obama by reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's article in Monday's Times, which suggested that business executives were surprised Obama was so progressive in economic terms--after all, they said, he was a 1980s Ivy League graduate! This is especially amusing given that, in that era, every Ivy League institution, no matter how relatively conservative on the spectrum, was seen as politically liberal, leaning towards the Democrats--but Obama was thought to be a reliable endorser of corporate interests simply because of when and where he attended college! This made me muse on something Obama had said in his Inaugural Address, indeed perhaps its most resonant and best-trmemberedlnie'his call for  a 'new era of responsibility', and, with its Biblical resonance, his imploring that we 'set aside childish things'. How this was read was: Americans had been living above their means or pursuing self-interested agendas, this had been a form of narcissistic immaturity, now we must grow up and own our own actions. In a vacuum, this made perfect sense, and was of course a potentially bipartisan argument, given (somewhat reactivated) Republican concern for deficits.

But--as the assumptions about Obama's generation in Sorkin's article indicate--in this era, adulthood, maturity success, self-realization has been associated with endorsing the imperatives subscribed to by the corporate world, not the public weal. Obama was not so much asking the immature to become mature as to ask those who thought they had indeed become mature to adopt a new definition of maturity. He was urging people who thought they had definitively arrived at who they were to reconsider their basic assumption. And it is, here, perhaps, that his message feel on deaf ears, and why his efforts to lead the country have proved so oddly frustrating....   Not the only reason, of course, or even the main ones--but it is one of them.

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