Archive for November, 2008

Virtue in America

November 14, 2008

     It may seem that America actually has too much freedom, undermining morality and virtue. Muslim enemies in particular denounce the US as a licentious society. But this reflects too narrow a view of what virtue means. Some Muslim societies obsess over codes of supposed virtue that tell the father of a girl who is raped that he must kill her. In contrast, it is the genius of modern America to see people as individuals whose virtue is premised on finding their own way, being guided from within, rather than obeying some rule book. That was the lesson of Huckleberry Finn: he helped a slave escape, which contravened the rules of his society. But following his heart, instead of a societal code, freed him to be moral in a truer, deeper way.

            Americans thusly realize we have the responsibility to figure things out for ourselves. That is harder than just doing what you’re told, but it’s also better. Only where there is real choice can there be authentic virtue; and that’s why, even if America’s freedom means people are free to be bad, and some do act badly, such a society is ultimately more virtuous than one in which everyone just knuckles under to authority.

            And what, after all, is the point of virtue? Again, it isn’t because certain rules were handed down from somewhere. It’s to give us good lives. When people are left free to find their own paths, mostly they act well toward each other. And so, among Americans, for all our moral lapses, the bigger picture is one of great decency toward one another. Ours is a society of good lives, and very great virtue indeed.   

“God Bless America”

November 5, 2008

     My most indelible impression was of the middle-aged black woman, in the Chicago park, a moment after Obama was declared the winner, jumping up and down and shouting, “God bless America! God bless America! God bless America!”

     If you had seen how choked up I was, you would not have guessed I had voted for the other guy. But my heart is actually filled with gladness for all the people who so passionately supported Obama — especially African-Americans. I am pretty passionate about my own political beliefs, but I am not one of those who hates the other side. 

     I can’t add anything in verbiage about what a moment this is. But I will say that this is a gigantic blow against cynicism. I actually feel more positive emotion about this outcome than I did in any of the seven presidential elections in which my candidate won. 

     Obama’s speech was a striking contrast with that of Bush eight years ago. I never agreed with those who called Bush a moron — but he sure behaved like one. Eight years ago I watched Bush’s victory speech in stunned disbelief — after an election in which a majority had actually voted against him, he had absolutely nothing to say to that majority. While I do believe that much of the divisiveness we’ve seen was caused by partisan bloody-mindedness against Bush, Bush had set himself up for it. Obama has not made this mistake, and his speech, explicitly, said the kinds of things that Bush so conspicuously failed to say eight years ago. 

     God bless America.

Election Day

November 4, 2008

At last. 

It breaks my heart that McCain will not be elected. But, in a way, it would also break my heart if Obama does not win. There are so many millions whose idealism has been fired by Obama, who are so deeply invested in his candidacy, and for reasons which are reasonable. I can appreciate this, even if I do not agree with it. 

    The real tragedy, to me, was the failure of the Republican party to nominate McCain in 2000. One of the great mistakes of history — like Arafat’s refusal to take yes for an answer in the 2000 negotiations; and Paul Bremer’s blithely disbanding the Iraqi Army. The third one seems to be getting repaired, at huge cost. The other two probably never will. I doubt that I will live to see another Republican President. Well, that’s democracy. Not that I’m much of a Republican anymore, anyway. There really is no political home for classical John Stuart Mill liberals like me.

    But America is a great country, all the same.


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