Barack Obama and American maturity

Anyone who’s read this web-log, heard me rant about Mr. Obama as the second reincarnation of FDR (perhaps third, if we include the outgoing Mr. Bush), or knows anything about me recognizes that I have no interest in defending or desire to support our almost-president. I laugh, sadly, at those who have partaken of the “change” Kool-Aid, reminding them of then-Senator Obama’s support for, inter alia, the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA “compromise”, and un-Islamabad-sanctioned raids, from Afghanistan, into Pakistan; I cringe at the thought of his Rooseveltian Fascism.

And yet, I recognize that his election might signify at least a partial maturation of the American electorate. I speak not of his race (Must we continue to wage the “Civil War”, one hundred and forty-some years after its ostensible Appomattox culmination — or must the penultimate and ultimate amendments in the Bill of Rights be eviscerated not only de facto, but de jure as well before we can finally call off the race-hawks?) Rather, reading, finally, Professor Bacevich‘s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism — which, only forty pages in, I think might be the most important book that I’ve ever read —, I cannot help comparing President Carter’s unheeded, mocked call for Americans, in Bacevich’s words, “[to live] in accordance with permanent values. At least by implication, it meant settling for less” with Obama’s derided proclamation that “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.”

Mr. Carter lost his campaign for re-election to the “Great Communicator”, of whom Bacevich ably writes,

Reagan portrayed himself as a conservative. He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of “morning in America,” the faux-conservative Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.

That this particular comment — or the belief manifested therein — from Mr. Obama played any measurable role in his defeating Mr. McCain is unlikely. However, even as I doubt that, particularly as gas prices have again decreased, erasing from our collective short-term memory the notion that we must, as Mr. Carter advocated thirty years ago, sensibly break our energy dependence, Mr. Obama will having any lasting impact on a perhaps irreparably (save post-Depression?) degraded culture, one of consumption and hyper-individualism-cum-“friendly” statism, I hold on to a wispy, nigh immeasurably small strand of hope that we are, ever slowly, maturing, opening our eyes to the utterly meaningless — and potentially catastrophic — state of being that we have created for ourselves.


5 Responses

  1. I remember reactions to that proclamation expressing fear that Obama wanted the government to control how much we eat and how much energy we consume, but I hoped, and still hope, that his words call us to personal responsibility and maturity. We dearly need to learn the virtue of temperance.

  2. Amen, sir. Amen.

  3. Obama’s best rhetorical moments, I believe, have come when he’s challenging Americans to be better than they are at present; what struck me about him initially was that he seemed almost able to inspire people to actually do more than nod in agreement. (Then somewere along the line people got confused and thought they were supposed to swoon, but that’s another story.)

    And, judging by my margin notes in “The Limits of Power,” it was around forty pages in that I began having a series of “Aha!” moments. It certainly ought to be an important book — which is partly why I keep having the urge to go through it again.

  4. But surely you recognize that race is, in fact, important here?

  5. Yes, Mark, I do recognize that race is of some importance (I suspect you believe it to be of more than I) here. My point, I guess, is that I hope, probably naïvely, that, rather than because of race, it was because of a certain sort of collective maturation that we elected the man who uttered the words I compare to those of President Carter’s.

    (My apologies for the delay; as you may have noticed, I’ve been quite remiss as a blogger, and I just now found your comment in my spam box.)

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