Thursday, January 22, 2009

RETURNING TO MY OBAMA-LOVIN’ ROOTS

What a week this has been. Barack Obama is officially the bomb! His approval rating seems to have hit 90% -- and the other 10 have been irreversibly brain damaged from too much Limbaugh. Even the rationalists like me can’t help but notice the magical way in which our new President goes about his business. Talk about effortless charisma. If I weren’t convinced about what a fundamentally good guy he is, I’d be petrified about how much power he could abuse. Truly, though, I’m not worried that he’ll turn into a demagogue or a scandal magnet. This is “No Drama Obama” we’re talking about. He knows that as soon as he lets his ego rule his heart and mind, that’s when he turns into “just another Clinton.” He’s a better statesman than that. Even the Clintonistas would have to see that by now.

So yes, I’ll admit it – my expectations for this Administration are sky high. Far higher, in fact, than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Oh sure, this particular Rome won’t get built in a day. The stock market hasn’t exactly gone through the roof this week, now has it? In the upcoming months, businesses will fail, workers will be laid off, and terrorists will make mischief. Still, I get the impression that Barack will make enough smart moves to retain his popularity … and not just in this country. I can’t wait to see him bring his mission of peace and unity to the world stage. We may even be able to make some progress in the Middle East. (No, I haven’t swallowed enough Kool Aid to think that in eight years, the Arabs and Israelis will make a permanent peace, like the Irish did under Clinton. Some problems take more than eight years to solve. But those kind of problems need to be addressed one step at a time, and Barack might well take us down the road a few steps.)

As for the Inauguration itself, I can’t tell you how proud it made me. Proud of my country, to be sure. But also proud of my city. I’d like to invite all my out-of-town readers to remember what you saw on Tuesday and PLEASE come back to D.C. next time you hear about a march or rally in support of a good cause. This is a city devoted to good causes. Like justice. Peace. And freedom. Just today, I ran into a bunch of Pro Life marchers. I can’t say I share their cause, but I respect them for taking the time to fight for it.

So come to D.C. and visit a city that CARES. And a city that belongs to the whole world. We can still offer every resident of Planet Earth some of the best museums of the world … for free! That’s something you can’t say about Paris or Rome. Sure, those great cities kick our butts when it comes to historical treasures, but we’ve got something they don’t: Barack Obama. We might be jealous that we don’t have a Notre Dame or a Coliseum, but believe me – they wish they had our President.

Speaking of that very same President, as I watched the Inauguration, my mind wandered back to July 27, 2004 when he first became known to me and millions of other Americans. That was his coming out party at the Democratic National Convention. Watching him deliver that speech, I was convinced that we were witnessing the nation’s first black President, and I was hardly alone. Who among us had seen so many attractive qualities in a politician? Much has been said about his more “objective” assets – his natural tendency to unify and mediate, his ethnic diversity, his IQ, his charisma, his good looks, and the poetry of his rhetoric. But what struck me most is that this was a progressive who figured out the importance of claiming BOTH the moral and spiritual high ground. It was the failure to do so that had so destroyed my Party.

Make no mistake, America, this is not a morally relativistic society. Nor is it one that draws inspiration from completely secular leaders. We want our leaders to be flesh-and-blood types with whom we can enjoy a football game But we also want our leaders to be humble and spiritual enough that we can also enjoy a prayer service with them. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way – Barack himself said (beautifully) that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – AND NON-BELIEVERS." But it is one thing to be ready to respect the rights of non-believers, and another to be ready to be led by them. Many, many Americans aren’t yet ready for that, any more than they’re ready for leaders who claim to be believers, but then get blowjobs from interns while their wives are asleep.

In short, if you want a leader who is able to unify America, s/he had better be an authentically moral and spiritual person. I was looking for such a politician who was also a committed progressive. When Obama showed up at the Democratic Convention in 2004, it was clear that I had found my man. Now, the whole world has found him. How sweet it is!

As a tribute to Barack – specifically, the Barack I came to recognize back in 2004 – I’d like to conclude this post with a lengthy passage from one of the most eloquent philosophers who’s ever lived. He is commonly known as an “atheist,” but the truth is that he is a naturally spiritual man whose rationalism caused him to reject the supernatural God. The philosopher’s name is George Santayana, and you will find in this passage from his autobiography (as reprinted in Living in the Eternal: A Study of George Santayana, by Anthony Woodward) a powerful argument against the kind of rampant secularism and modernity-worship that plagues our society. Thank God, Barack has internalized what Santayana is talking about in hailing the realm of the transcendent. Let’s hope Barack will forever remain humbled by this perspective.

“At Paestum there was only the railway station and no hotel, but travelers might spend the night comfortably at La Cava, not far away. I had done so and in the morning was waiting at the station for the train to Naples. The only other persons on the platform were a short fat middle-aged man and a little girl, evidently his daughter. In the stillness of the country air I could hear their conversation. The child was asking questions about the railway buildings, the rails, and the switches. ‘Where does that other line go?’ she asked as if the matter interested her greatly. ‘Oh you can see,’ the father replied, slightly bored. ‘It runs into that warehouse.’ ‘It doesn’t go beyond?’ ‘No. It stops there.’ ‘And where does this line go?’ ‘To Naples.’ ‘And does it end there?’ ‘No, it never ends. It goes on forever. ‘Non finisce mai?’ the girl repeated in a changed voice. ‘Allora Iddio l’ha fatto?’ ‘No, said her father dryly, ‘God didn’t make it. It was made by the hand of man. Le braccia dell’uomo l’hanno fatto.’ And he puffed his cigar with a defiant resentful self-satisfaction as if he were addressing a meeting of conspirators.

“I could understand the irritation of this vulgarian, disturbed in his secret thoughts by so many childish questions. He was some small official or tradesman of the Left, probably a Freemason, and proud to utter the great truth that man had made the railway. God might have made the stars and the deserts and all other useless things, but everything good and progressive was the work of man. And it had been mere impatience that led him to say that the Naples line never ended. Of course it couldn’t run on forever in a straight line. The child must have known that the earth is round, and that the continents are surrounded by water. The railways must stop at the sea, or come round in a circle. But the poor little girl’s imagination had been excited and deranged by religious fables. When would such follies die out?

“Commonplaces that had been dinned all my life into my ears: yet somehow this little scene shocked me. I saw the claw of Satan strike that child’s soul and try to kill the idea of God in it. Why should I mind that? Was the idea of God alive at all in me? No: if you mean the traditional idea. But that was a symbol: vague, variable, mythical, anthropomorphic; the symbol for an overwhelming reality, a symbol that named and unified in human speech the incalculable powers on which our destiny depends. To observe, record, and measure the method by which these powers operate is not to banish the idea of God; it is what the Hebrews called meditating on his ways. The modern hatred of religion is not, like that of the Greek philosophers, a hatred of poetry, for which they wished to substitute cosmology, mathematics, or dialectic, still maintaining the reverence of man for what is superhuman. The modern hatred of religion is hatred of the truth, hatred of all sublimity, hatred of the laughter of the gods. It is puerile human vanity trying to justify itself by a lie. Here, then, most opportunely at the railway station returning from Paestum, where I had been admiring the courage and the dignity with which the Dorians recognized their place in nature, and filled it to perfection, I found the brutal expression of the opposite mood, the mood of impatience, conceit, low-minded ambition, mechanical inflation, and the worship of material comforts.”

Here’s to a President who is neither arrogant about himself or about the other creations of his species. Here’s to a President who will teach the world – including an old Jew like me – the beauty of being a true Christian.

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