Obama's Moment?


A reader writes:

You're mostly right and you're partly wrong in your Obama profile. Here' what you don't get in his stump speech but is certainly there and is conservative.

He's willing to engage the other side, listen to their opinions, and accept them if he believes they're right. I know, I took a couple law classes with the guy five years ago at the University of Chicago (no liberal enclave). As a professor and legislator, he was constantly demanding that his students and his colleagues prove to him why their ideas were right, he was constantly playing devil's advocate against his students and colleagues' often liberal ideas, so that he and, also importantly they, realized the strength and power of their views or their flaws. it's nice to be shown through the socratic method that one's views are morally defensible and superior to conservative views, or where they fail.

On the other hand, being a professor at the U of C law school I know he was influenced by the libertarian strain of thought present in the school. In the end, as he often states in town hall settings, he's a pragmatist. He is willing to steal the ideas of anybody, liberal, conservative, libertarian, if it results in what he considers to be the just end result (universal health care, better schools, a better environment). This is why you constantly see him demanding accountability and the need for efficiency from people and government. That's why teachers in his view deserve more money but must be willing to be more accountable. That's why he demands that if we have universal healthcare, we ask people to take better preventative care of themselves and not just throw money into a broken system.

The man is no ideologue.

He's ultimately a pragmatist, in some ways no different than Bloomberg, Schwartznegger, and Spitzer.

I'm sure this reader is right about Obama's pragmatism. My point is that the pragmatism is in yoke to liberal ideas, especially about the role of government. I'm not complaining particularly. He's a Democrat and a progressive. But his broad political identity is liberal. And it's worth acknowledging that up-front. Maybe that's what America wants right now. Another reader adds:

I really believe Obama's tapped into something powerful with (as you put it) that theme of restoration. As an American who's traveled abroad (and who has relatives from abroad) I've often felt humiliated by the face of America the Bush administration has shown the world in recent years. In a recent e-mail exchange with an acquaintance in Australia, I expressed the hope that the election of Obama as our president would remind people of the ideals and the idea of progress that United States used to represent in the world and that it would mark the end of the moral crisis we've experienced.

The feeling I get from Obama's speech reminds me of the feeling I got when I was in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans a couple weeks ago (as a visitor) and seeing a little church that had been damaged by the flood. Clearly, (even though the neighborhood had been destroyed) the congregation had worked to restore their church and their community and to prepare for the time they would at some point be allowed to go home. Inside this church (and beautifully lit by sunlight through a stained glass window) was a painting of Christ standing in a river (or possibly floodwater). You can read the sign at the church in the photo above.

Seeing the effort that had been made to restore this church (building and community) that was surrounded by the destruction left by Katrina - I found the message really inspiring in its power and hopefulness. There's a lot of restoration that needs to be done in our country - of our ideals, and of our communities. I too hope Obama deepens and broadens his message.

It cannot do any harm.