Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We live in rapidly changing times

The senators and guests are still eating their lunch following the presidential oath, but the official White House Web site has already changed.

Obama's speech was lovely:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

And the part about giving up childish things -- that's worth looking into a bit closer. As Obama said, it comes from Scripture, from First Corinthians, Chapter 13. It's often called the love chapter because it proclaims the singular importance of love (in the sense of the Greek agape [αγάπη], love which cherishes and nurtures, but does not want to possess). Here is the verse Obama cited:
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
To my mind it was a nearly perfect sentiment, expressing an admonition to partisan extremists that they have behaved childishly and the time has come to grow up. Basically he told Washington and America to just GROW UP, but he did so in the words of St. Paul, words which come from the same chapter as these words:
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What Obama did with that brief reference to Scripture has to rank as the gentlest and kindest smackdown ever. Ideological purity and partisan bullshit got us into a helluva mess because we were all behaving like children. It is time to start behaving like grownups.

Right now being a grownup requires that we engage creatively with the world, that we not rely on child-like habits of thought, that we put aside reflexive responses, that we stow away hobby horse ideologies. Now is a time for mature thought and adult action.

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