Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where We Are

I'm with Will Wilkinson and his MLK day piece on MLK, BHO, and Moral Progress.

The idea that ours is a culture in moral stagnation or decline is simply preposterous. Martin Luther King Day is an excellent time to expose the silliness of the moral stasists and declinists. It’s an excellent time to celebrate the profound and rapid progress we have made, and can continue to make.

Now, I’m cynical about the romantic personality cult around Barack Obama because I am cynical about the romantic personality cult around the American presidency, which, because it is contemptible and stupid, demands cynicism. I think I’m not being cynical about liberal democratic politics when I concede that it is a very advanced, civilized, and relatively peaceful form of organized coalitional agression. But I’m definitely not cynical about what Barack Obama’s election means in light of the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” I’m admiring, I’m proud, of that.

Because I intend to be pretty hard on Obama, the politician, and his starry-eyed, mush-headed followers, I think it’s important to note that it’s not only possible, but morally recommended, to assume a posture that ought to be comfortable, but is in fact culturally awkward. One should both recognize in Obama a real symbol of morally meaningful cultural change and attack the romance of democracy and the cult of the presidency — because that is the direction of further moral progress.

Will's right, we should be able to celebrate just how far we've come without having to embrace the cult of personality around Barack Obama.

I've had several requests to write about the inauguration, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to say anything that hasn't been said. Hardcore Republicans are a bit indignant (and rightfully so) that Obama'a inauguration is more of a coronation, the scope of which exceeds anything George Bush ever did and the Obama supporters are busy preparing for the second coming. And then there's this piece by Barton Gellman in the Washington Post, explaining how Obama could redefine the Presidency.

Obama arrives with a rare convergence of additional strengths, some of them inherited and some of his own making. Predicting a presidency, to be sure, is hazardous business, and much will depend on Obama's choices and fortune. But historians, recent White House officials and senior members of the incoming team expressed broad agreement that Obama begins his term in command of an office that is at or near its historic zenith.

"The opportunity is there for Obama to recast the very nature of the presidency," said Sean Wilentz, a presidential historian at Princeton. "Not since Reagan have we had as capable a persuader as Obama, and not since FDR has a president come in with quite the configuration of foreign and domestic crises that open up such a possibility for the reconstruction of the executive."

I forget where it was I read it the other day, but some obviously intelligent person lamented the disappearance of cynicism. Agreed.


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