Much of my dissertation involved studying the writings of Lionel Trilling, an important literary critic who wrote for The Partisan Review from the 1930s through the 1960s. It is from him that I learned to appreciate complexity. Complexity does not mean obscurity, but rather an appreciation of the fact that most questions worth discussing are multi-faceted.
Our society has become addicted to simple-minded melodrama. From our entertainment to our political discourse, we regularly choose the extreme over the measured, the fight over the discussion, the war over diplomacy. Throughout the presidential campaign, the media continually cried out that it was necessary for Obama to take a few swings at McCain, to deliver a "knockout punch," to get more aggressive. To his credit, Obama resisted those calls, because his vision for America is based not only on bi-partisanship, but on a recognition that issues are complex, and demand a thoughtful, measured process and response. Even now, as Obama prepares his transition to the Presidency, websites like Daily Kos (which I read compulsively throughout the campaign) is claiming that it wasn't Obama's stated values that won the campaign, but rather the Kossacks who went after McCain and Palin whenever they threw garbage his way. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is as Wallace Shawn said in Aunt Dan and Lemon, that our kindness and empathy relies on someone like Henry Kissinger to do the dirty work for us.
But now that the challenger has been vanquished, it is time to put aside our weapons and help Obama in his attempt to create a different society, one that focuses on points of commonality not points of conflict, one that focuses on civil dialogue not polarized shouting matches, one that recognizes complexity rather than pretends to a simplicity that doesn't exist. This requires restraint. It requires us to give up the buzz afforded by killing dragons. For there are very few dragons, but there are many, many complex problems that require the insights and considerations of multiple perspectives.
I am a lifelong Democrat, and during my 32 years of voting I have seen my candidates win and I've seen them lose. But never have I felt such a sense of personal hope as when Obama won. And that hope is based not just in a changing of the guard, an unseating of the Republican leadership that has taken us down so many despicable pathways -- I would not have felt the same way had Hilary Clinton been elected instead of Obama, although I would have felt some measure of relief nonetheless. Rather, the intensity of my hope, which seems to be shared by so many people worldwide, is based on something in Obama's character, something is his way of being, something in his grace, his civility, his discipline, his passionate open-mindedness. The President can set a tone, can call on our better angels, can remind us of what we are in our best moments rather than our worst. And he does that not only by what he does, but just as importantly by how he does it.
As a society, we are hooked on the political crack that is partisan conflict. It is my fervent hope that Obama can take us through rehab, break our adrenaline addiction, and restore us to calm, thoughtful, civil thinking and discourse.
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