Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wills on Lincoln's Great Speeches & Obama's Arizona Speech

I'm having a hard time getting away from this topic, but some commentators have given us some profound insights. Now Garry Wills weighs in. Wills, who has leveled some harsh criticism of Obama, here compares him to Lincoln and Shakespeare in using words as healing balm for others and for the nation. High praise indeed! Like Lincoln, Obama chose to use the occasion to provide words of healing and not condemnation. Like Shakespeare's Henry V, Obama uses words to praise heroism and shared endeavor's from which future generations can draw succor.

Nick Morgan on Obama's Speech

Morgan makes a point that everyone should grasp: there is a huge difference between free speech and license. In other words, government regulation of speech should occur only under very limited circumstances, but within society, we should eschew speech that is hateful, false, and malicious. Morgan writes:

We can all do our bit. Don’t read, promulgate, or write pieces that promote unmitigated hate. Avoid the obscene rants and the lunatic fringe. Have a working assumption that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re immoral or insane. And take the time to listen -- as honestly and respectfully as you want to be listened to in turn -- to all the other voices that make up our unruly, difficult democracy.

To which I say "amen!". Also, he includes a very poignant portion of Obama's Tuscan speech.

Reinhold Niebuhr on Hope, Love, and Forgiveness

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

Quoted by David Brooks in the previous post.

David Brooks on Civility & the Paradox of Sinfulness & Ignorance

It seems that every time Paul Krugman offers a trenchent opinion on a political or cultural topic, along comes David Brooks to challenge or amend it. So it is on the issue of civility.

The important point Brooks makes in this column arises from the paradox of sinfulness and ignorance. Simply put, Brooks argues that if we acknowledge our sinfulness and our limitations--our often tragic shortcomings and limitations--we will, collectively, move life forward little by little. But only by recognizing our limitations can we hope to act with the necessary humility, caution, and deference that will allow us to live with our respective limits and not destroy ourselves. Brooks argues, however, that contemporary culture too readily celebrates our "achievements" and narcissism. Using sports as an example, he compares the public humility of Joe DiMaggio with contemporary athletes who seem to miss no opportunist to exalt their achievements. Of course, if this were limited to athletics, we'd have an annoyance rather than something to fear, but he argues that this attitude pervades our larger culture.

What Brooks argues, I believe, draws on some of the best wisdom of both Classical and Christian culture. For instance, the professed ignorance of Socrates and the sense of moral failure explicit in St. Augustine. Brooks cites one of his favorite Christians, Reinhold Neibuhr for his concluding thought on the topic.

(See the next post. I want those who may not wade through my patter of have the best shot @ appreciating the quote.)

Krugman on Obama's Speech & Prospects for a Rhetorical Truce

I mostly agree with Krugman on this one. Yes, we do have some divides. We always have had such divides as a nation (think Jefferson & Hamilton), but they should be mostly political, on the margins. As someone brought up Republican, and having come to know it well before leaving the fold, I can say that limited government and lower taxes can be good things. It depends on what government functions you're limiting, what alternatives exist to fulfill public goods, and what you loose by lowering taxes, or conversely, what you get for your money. Active, engaged political discourse on these issues should be the lifeblood of a democracy. However, when paranoia creeps in, as it does on both left and right--although I think much more often and virulently on the right--then we have a poisoned public sphere. Thus, I think Krugman a little too pessimistic about possible reconciliation. Even on a heated topic like abortion, thoughtful discourse should agree that abortion isn't the best form of birth control, that women wanting to keep their children should have good options available to them, and if you think abortion absolutely wrong, you should act to help those in need as well as work to share your moral vision in a moral (i.e., non-violent) way. I think many do that. It's clear, however, that some few who opposed abortion as killing seem willing to kill to stop it. John Brown syndrome we might call it. But this is not true for most, and it should be so for all forms of dissent.

Robert Wright on Political Discourse

Robert Wright is a person whose opinion I find trustworthy and thoughtful, and he doesn't disappoint in this instance. Was the shooter crazy? Of course. Was he likely influenced by political rhetoric that depicts differing political views as alien? Yes, probably. We simply cannot swim in a sea of political vituperative and not become infected.