Category Archives: Politics

Paranoia In Shifts

Some people will believe the very worst about others.  Well, not all others, just some others….

People will believe that president Obama would euthanize their grandparents. They will believe that he “hates white people.” They will cry in public and ask for their “America back” — when to most of us America doesn’t look all that different from last year. That is, unless there really is no place in one’s America for a black president — but I don’t honestly believe that’s what that woman was thinking. Even if race played into her fears, I’m pretty sure it was subconscious.

So why is it that people are willing to believe such extreme things about Obama and the Democrats? Why are they willing to believe, not just that they have misguided ideas, but that they have such actively evil intentions? It seems incredible to me.

A friend of mine asked me an interesting question the other day. “Do you think this is how conservatives felt during the Bush years?” She wondered. “That they couldn’t figure out why so many were fearful of the administration’s policies — not just disapproving, but fearful?”

My friend, much like me, is a “liberal” in her values, without being committed to any technocratic or partisan political agenda. We are liberals because we believe in freedom and compassion and fairness. We want things like poverty and discrimination to be eradicated without necessarily being wedded to particular policy approaches. We love the founding fathers and will fight any white supremacist who tries to appropriate them for their own sick visions of “their” America. We are willing to be just as hard on the government under President Obama as we were on the one under President Bush on all the same issues: state secrets doctrine, extraordinary renditions, military tribunals, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, wall street bailouts with practically no strings attached. . . etc.

And yet, we too, are willing to accept that the Obama people aren’t dangerous in ways that maybe we weren’t always absolutely certain about the Bush people. (Although sometimes I do think Tim Geithner is the devil, but that’s a different post).

I will say this, though: the whackos on the left — the ones that used to peddle anti-Bush theories that 9/11 was an “inside job” or that the delay in responding to Katrina was a result of Bush “hating black people” — never really got traction with mainstream or influential liberals. Not one factually unproven conspiracy-type theory about the Bush administration was taken up by anyone prominent enough that I can recall his/her name. Dan Rather doesn’t count — he relied on the wrong documents but his charge, that Bush didn’t fulfill his National Guard duties, was true and substantiated; and even if he does count, that’s just ONE. On the other hand, mainstream, influential conservatives — Bill Kristol, Lou Dobbs, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity — don’t seem to have any qualms about giving credence to complete fabrications about “death panels” and “Kenyan citizenship.”

I will also say this: for all the conservative accusations of inadequate liberal respect for our erstwhile “commander-in-chief” — no liberal ever actively wanted President Bush to fail as a president. We just wanted him to be a better president. Rush Limbaugh actually said he wanted Obama to fail (and Fred Thompson and Bobby Jindal defended him in this). Can you imagine the Fox News response if someone had said that about Bush? Despite the conservative alarm at liberals not caring about the security of our country, it was a conservative that wanted Osama bin Laden to attack our country.

I will say this, too: I wouldn’t have any reason to be paranoid about President Bush if he didn’t actually lie to us about the reason we went to war with Iraq; if he didn’t try to usurp legislative power with elaborate “signing statements”; if he didn’t have guys like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Bybee, and Yoo working for him (I know, I know, Tim Geithner. . . but he’s kind of a lesser devil, like Phil, The Prince of Insufficient Light).

Nevertheless, I think my friend has a point. What we tend to see as “flawed” rather than “evil” may often be a product of our own invention, at least in part, and this might apply to even the least partisan, most fair-minded and judicious among us. That’s bad enough, but what’s really scary is that so very many of us these days are deliberately, and gleefully partisan with absolutely no intention of being fair-minded or judicious.Maybe it’s “their” turn to be paranoid. So much for the post-political neo-camelot.

Legends Of The Fall

Sometimes the world gets better.

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Hungary began taking down the barbed wire partition between itself and Austria. It wasn’t attended by all the fanfare of the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later. But it was a quietly heroic start of that gloriously literal, physical dismantling of the Iron Curtain.

We in America like to celebrate it as a matter of national triumph. That feeling is warranted only in the sense that our ideals of democracy and open societies had prevailed. But when we do the revisionist victory dance and buy into the popular cowboy narrative of how we strong-armed the Soviets to surrender, we do a great disservice to history and the truth and ourselves.

First of all, that attitude diminishes the role of the people living inside the countries behind the curtain, who essentially rose up to overthrow their own oppressive governments (many of these, like Solidarity in Poland were labor activists, a fact that gloating neocons like to sweep under the rug).  The truth is, communism failed as an economic structure and authoritarianism failed as a governing principle. They were no longer tenable propositions and historical forces brewing for many years imploded the system from within, in some cases violently (Rumania). As Karl Marx might have recognized if he had actually lived through the era of communism, it was a historical inevitability.

Secondly, keeping alive the fantasy that we defeated the communists through force, denigrates the role of our values – democracy, freedom, and equality – that formed the real impetus for the fall of communism. We were the shining example of a life they wanted. As George Shultz said (criticizing the Jackson-Bannick Act), “telling our friends. . . we are forcing you to do [something] doesn’t work.” What does work, according to him, is to let them see that what we are asking for works to their own benefit.

Most ironically, believing the cowboy myth does a grave disservice to the Cowboy himself. When I emphasize that our values and our example helped end the Cold War, I don’t mean to suggest our foreign policy didn’t. But it wasn’t our tough-talking, deficit-exploding-defense-spending policy that did the trick. It was our diplomacy.

Ronald Reagan’s contribution in this was significant, though not singular. But the key to his foreign policy success (contrary to every self-styled Reaganite who gives The Gipper practically the entire credit for “ending communism”), was not his unrelenting “show of strength.” It was the opposite of that. (Remember that Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson had all been as hawkish and as much the anti-communist crusaders that Reagan was, but they all failed. Remember also that the Cold War was not so much “won” as thawed.)

The reason Reagan was able to make any headway was, along with the historical realities I mentioned earlier (and the good fortune to be dealing with Gorbachev, instead of the likes of Khrushchev and Brezhnev) was really his flexibility. He was willing to engage in “constructive dialog,” as Gorbachev explained.

Last week, Mikhail Gorbachev and George Shultz were on Charlie Rose. They talked about the truly successful aspect of Reagan’s legacy, one that his most vocal disciples NEVER mention, which is one of peacemaking. He came to realize that cooperation works better than bullying. Gorbachev said he witnessed Reagan evolve from a hardliner to a peacemaker. Shultz noted the same evolution of Gorbachev.

Reagan and his foreign policy team took a lot of heat from their hawkish domestic constituency (and some allies) for promoting a ballistic missile ban, and a general, progressive, nuclear weapons reduction plan with the goal of eventual disarmament. Shultz said Margaret Thatcher hit him with her purse over the disarmament proposal at Reykjavík (although I think that may well have been because she wasn’t invited to the Summit).

What Thatcher didn’t get – and her neocon fans in America still don’t get– is that Reagan got somewhere because he met his adversary halfway. Gorbachev recalled a meeting early in their relationship, when he essentially told the president “I’m not your student; if you don’t stop lecturing me, this conversation is over.” Reagan realized being conciliatory (a dirty word to today’s conservatives) might be a better strategy. Unlike our last Republican president, who never liked to admit errors, Reagan actually rescinded the “evil empire” statement. He told a Soviet journalist “I believed it at the time I said it, but I don’t anymore.” How refreshing!

We don’t generally think of Reagan in those terms (because conservatives like to pretend his success validates a diehard conservatism that it really doesn’t and liberals like to disregard his redeeming qualities because they dislike so much else about him).  But Reagan, at his best, did listen to people, and correct himself, and compromise. In fact, his compromises on weapons discussions helped him to negotiate his human rights agenda. There’s something else people don’t seem to remember about Reagan: he cared about human rights! Certainly I (as a shameless liberal) care about a whole of host of human rights issues that Reagan was indifferent to, but one has to respect the fact that the rights that he did care about – like religious freedom – seemed to be important to him in substance, and not merely as lip service to win elections and to justify invasions. Gorbachev remembered that Reagan tried to coax him to talk about the Jewish emigration issue, at EVERY meeting! Shultz recalled a quiet deal worked out between the two leaders whereby the USSR would permit a Pentecostal community to emigrate if the US promised not to “crow” about it.

In America, we take a lot of pleasure in thinking of President Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech as pivotal in communism’s decline. In reality, of course, it was just a great sound bite, like “audacity of hope” – inspirational, to be sure, and I never fail to feel a certain spine-tingling whenever I see archive footage of it. But was it really “pivotal”… in a concrete, history-altering sense?  Come on! It wasn’t like he was sending us off to battle in Gettysburg.


Berlin Wall, 1989. Photo released into public domain by its assumed author.

Gorbachev, who remembers Reagan with great admiration and affection, chuckled at the suggestion that changes in the Soviet foreign policy posture was at all influenced by that speech. “This did not really impress us, as it did you,” he admitted. But he gave Reagan a great deal of credit for the actual work of diplomacy that did influence changes.

There was one more factor to which we do more than a little injustice by claiming Reagan as a latter-day Lincoln, single-handedly liberating the bulk of Eurasia from totalitarian serfdom.  I speak, of course, of Mikhail Gorbachev.

First, the warming of international relations was led jointly by the Reagan-Gorbachev team. More importantly, international relations played a small part of the actual fall of the Soviet empire as compared to the internal pressures, as I mentioned before. And Gorbachev must get much of the credit for the way he dealt with that. Although I give the people of Eastern Europe more credit for their own liberation than any politician, it’s obvious that in the Soviet Union itself, Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost programs definitely catalyzed the process by liberalizing Soviet society from within. (Ironically, he was trying to save communism by rescuing it from totalitarianism, but it turned out totalitarianism was pretty much the only thing holding it in place!)

Gorbachev says that he was “defeated” in his political career, but, in the final analysis, the liberalization policies he put in place proved successful in principle.   I’d say!

I’d also say that the end of the Cold War, Communism, and the Iron Curtain are all related, but they are not the same thing. The Cold War was an arms-race between us and the Soviets. Communism was the economic system of the Easter Bloc. The Iron Curtain was the opaque and tyrannical political conditions within the Bloc. If you look at our interactions in the world today, and indeed our other interactions during the late Cold War years, all these factors aren’t always necessarily related.

Watching Gorby and Shultz chew the fat with Charlie made for one riveting hour. Twenty plus years later, all their nerve-trying diplomatic calculations, all the guarded communications through a political minefield that could prove, at any moment, to become an actual minefield on a planetary scale. . . transmuted into reminiscences of the kind that you might have with an old college debating rival over a decent Beaujolais.

There is a scene in Ken Burns’s “The Civil War” in which a couple of old soldiers – one Union, one Confederate – are talking about the “old days” like brothers in arms. It was like that: surreal and yet exactly right.

[The  cover image is a work of the United States Government and is in the public domain in the United States.]


The Absolute Value of Truth

Some people have so little credibility that even if they happen to say something correct, we are entitled to tell them to shut up. But that doesn’t mean we adopt the opposite posture just because we want to oppose them.Dick Cheney is such a person.  Hillary Clinton is correct that Dick Cheney has no business asking for “transparency” from government in relation to its release of the torture memos. Not only was his administration shrouded in secrecy and given to disclaiming any obligation of public accounting of any kind; but he has also been severe in opposing this particular set of de-classifications.

What’s “transparent” is Mr. Cheney’s deeply principled commitment to the public’s right to know. . . whatever might be exculpatory for him and his peeps. Nobody owes him that.

BUT. . . if there are documents that contextualize the shameful new facts we are learning about the use of torture as an interrogation tool, we really should have that information, irrespective of Cheney’s request.

Notice I said “contextualize” not “mitigate.” Acts that are immoral, unconstitutional, and in violation of our international agreements are still all those things even if they are spectacularly successful in meeting the objectives for which they were designed. Our constitution is replete with prohibitions against wonderfully “effective” things that government could do.

* Suppression of speech and assembly is an excellent prophylactic against insurrection.

* Broad searches and seizures powers are great for prosecuting criminals.

* A government without checks and balances has far less gridlock.

All these barriers on government likely militates against the smoothest possible functioning of government’s otherwise permitted activities.

But our founders chose to provide such inefficiency-inducing mechanisms to avoid abuse of discretion. They put a higher premium on the quality of our lives – as freely determined by us – than on the logistical efficacy of how our government functions.

Plenty of people already think that torture yields useful information. Would it surprise anyone that some memos indicating that view were written by Bush administration advisers? These are the guys who got their people to (1) find strong evidence of WMDs and an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection just in time to drag us into a war they were looking for an excuse to launch, (2) torture — excuse the pun — all reason, tradition, and canons of text-construction to somehow conclude that American laws(!) permitted them to treat detainees in ways worthy of Saddam Hussein, and (3) sign off on the legal theory that the president can unilaterally declare someone an “enemy combatant” and detain him indefinitely without review or appeal.

OF COURSE they had memos extolling the virtues of torture! Let us see the documents. All the documents – you can redact any particular info that compromises national security.

*We are going to take anything the Bush people had to say about torture with a large grain of salt. Trust us.

*We are not going to assume that the morality or legality of torture turns on its effectiveness at gaining intelligence, if that is indeed shown to be true. Trust us.

* Most importantly, even if we do decide that those memos completely exonerate the Bush Administration, that’s kind of our prerogative.  Your job is not to direct our opinions. Your job is to tell us the whole truth. Your job is to TRUST US.

News Banner

Evening news, Monday, March 9, 2009

Something utterly generic about the global economy is being reported as the main story right now. I won’t remember it tomorrow. But I will remember the banner of summary headlines running at the bottom of the screen: Robert Mugabe speaks out against violence at the funeral of Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife; 33 people killed in a bomb attack on reconciliation talks in Iraq; a suicide bomb targets a mosque in Sri Lanka; the militaries of China and US are in a public spat over whether one of them violated international law (either by encroaching on sovereign waters or by harassing a vessel in international waters).

It’s a common claim that the world is full of paradoxes. Philosophers and Zen masters and even quantum physicists have long told us that. Except this time, I’m really, really missing the poetry of it.

The Fundamentals of Terror

During my month-long visit to India, I have noticed the disturbing trend of “Hindu Fundamentalism,” which mirrors the same sort of culture war incited by all reactionary movements.In fact, there is only one Religious Fundamentalism in the world, designed to cultivate a shared sense of righteous rage at some perceived “enemy” among a certain historically identified group. That group is encouraged to internalize a received set of values purportedly derived from some mythical “fundamental” source of the group’s identity.

Like Christian fundamentalists in the US and Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East, the new Hindu incarnation (yes, the pun is intended) of Religious Fundamentalism lashes out at an inchoate “liberal” society, allegedly hell bent on destroying their most cherished traditional values.

But what are these values, really? I don’t know very much about Islam, but scholars say that peace and generosity are its cornerstones. You wouldn’t know it from the explosions. At the very heart of Christianity, is the edict that forbids the faithful to judge others (a power that God has reserved for himself alone) and commands them to “love their neighbor.” Yet Christian “fundamentalists” sit in judgment of anyone who violates their interpretation of God’s will and express nothing but scorn for their neighbors who hold a different view.

As far as I know, Hinduism is an organic, flexible, spiritual tradition with no canonical dictates and a rich heritage of strong female deities. Unlike the monotheistic Semitic faiths, Hinduism – the world’s last great pagan religion – has never cast aspersions on sexuality. Sexuality is a deep spiritual phenomenon in the Hindu scriptural tradition (although the practice of the past several centuries has been woefully anti-female and anti-sex). But if you’re going to make claims based on the “fundamentals” of Hinduism, the pro-female, sexually enlightened spiritual tradition is completely at odds with the stance of Hindu “fundamentalist” groups like Sri Ram Sena, whose (male) members recently raided a pub in Mangalore and violently harassed women who happened to be socializing there. They beat them up for socializing in public instead of staying demurely covered and at home, like the Sri Ram Sena thinks good little Hindu women ought to.

In all three of my examples, the “fundamentalists” have taken the most perverted and oppressive social behavior and forcibly endowed them with a religious justification that is the opposite of the truly fundamental tenets of the cited religion.

The real reason behind oppression – all oppression – is the fear of power dilution. Those who have power want to limit access for everyone else. There are a couple of historically tried and true methods of this. 1) intimidate the masses and 2) exploit whatever characteristics you share with a portion of the masses to develop a fear of difference, so that they will focus their energies on hating others, equally as powerless as themselves, and never even realize that the powerful elite egging them on shares with them only some arbitrary and manufactured “values” and some irrelevant demographic characteristics, but none of the power and privilege.

A big tip off that Religious Fundamentalists are really all the same, is that by far the biggest object of condemnation – across the board, for all fundamentalist movements – is cultural liberalism.

Seems odd on the surface. Secular liberalism is no enemy of religion. It may be indifferent to the supernatural beliefs of particular religions, but its “agenda” of tolerance actually helps religions thrive. But, Religious Fundamentalists are right to perceive liberalism as a grave and mortal threat. Because liberalism is the proposition that all individuals should be free to make peaceful choices about their own lives, it becomes a powerful alternative to the narrow ideologies promoted by those who seek to exclude others from gaining resources and influence through a divide and rule strategy.

To anyone who isn’t keyed into the power structure of the society he or she lives in, but has bought into the idea that enforced traditionalism and intimidation form a legitimate and tenable part of his or her religious or cultural “heritage” I say, remember this: your ability to live your own life in accordance with whatever tradition you identify with, without the threat of someone else taking that away once they ascend to power (and let’s be realistic, empires change hands, they have since the dawn of civilization) will be secured by liberalism and only liberalism.

[photo by Pixabay from Pexels]

A Speech For One Age

Barack Obama’s “first” inaugural address was no speech for the ages.Where was the precise distillation of some elegant truth (about the better angels of our nature or the only thing we have to fear)? Where was the stirring call to meet the great challenges of this moment in history?The call was there, of course. But it wasn’t particularly stirring. . . .

All the mundane policy references really belonged more in a state of the union speech. Worse, it sometimes sounded like a campaign speech about the “changes” that we need. As my sister said, “stop running for the office. You’re here already.” But I wonder if it isn’t ultimately a good thing that our new president sounded smart but ordinary and workhorse-like. In fact, the most “inspirational” point of the speech was not lyrical rhetoric à la “audacity of hope” but rather, “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get down to work.”

Befits the moment. No?

And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, new guy, for promising “to be held to account and to do our business in the light of day.” This, more than any particular thing government does or does not do, preserves the integrity of popular sovereignty.

I didn’t even mind that he and the chief justice flubbed the oath. It’s in keeping with the dialed down pageantry of this inauguration day. I like this president, but I like seeing him demystified. I’ve been uneasy with the pedestal quality to the place many have bestowed on him, apparently forgetting the work he has cut out for him and the fact that he’s just a guy. A super smart guy, with great political instincts and, I believe, really good intentions. But just a guy, after all.

And by the way, if you still have any doubts about how hard this is going to be, remember that the market fell by more than 300 points, an inauguration day record.

Still, he managed to move me with his homage to our “patchwork of heritage” and his articulation of “the price and promise of citizenship” and his promise to our enemies that “we will extend our hand if you will unclench your fist.” Best of all, he quoted Thomas Paine, my favorite Founding Father.

So, maybe he is striking the right balance (deliberately or inadvertently) between getting us charged up and keeping it real. And while it was no speech for the ages, perhaps it was one for this age.

Checking In

Sorry to be MIA, I am out of the country.

I am spending a few weeks in India, where, although it’s a democracy (and not one of those sham ones with just one party), there’s actually a province where the communist party has held power for three decades (they’ve been elected)! Interestingly, these “communists” don’t seem to mind privatization (“liberalization” as they call it here) of any industries. At least from what I can tell (I don’t claim to be an expert).

But there are plenty of Indian communists who do seem to have traditional communist preferences (they tend to be from regions where communists are out of power). I heard one of them say that the current global economic crisis “proves everything we’ve been saying for years.”

Wow. It’s hard to believe otherwise intelligent people really think the failures of capitalism is an argument for communism. That’s like saying because beans give you gas, you should be eating poop instead.

On that classy note, I’m going to rush away. I will check back soon. I hope you do too.

Should They Let The Descipicable Racist Play Ball?

Earlier this month, the University of Texas dismissed Buck Burnette from the football team for posting a racial slur, referring to Barack Obama, on his Facebook page.

Perhaps there is a good reason to support this decision. The university’s need for some discretion in choosing what kind of judgment or character to condone or chide in their students? Team unity, morale, etc.? I don’t know. I’m not an educator or an administrator. I have no adolescents in my charge. So, perhaps I don’t fully understand those issues.

What I do understand is how many things are wrong with the dismissal of this (admittedly scorn-worthy) student.

* The person toward whom the slur was applied is Barack Obama. President-Elect Barack Obama. If being American means anything, it means having the ability to say horrible things about our leaders.

* Buck has absolutely no position of authority and can’t be construed as intimidating anyone.

* While society has a right to spurn Buck for being a despicable racist, and that means a team he plays for has a right to kick him out, this particular team is part of the University of Texas, a state university, which according to well-established legal tradition, is an arm of the state, which is prohibited by the First Amendment from punishing speech, PARTICULARLY speech criticizing politicians. I know calling someone by a racist slur is not what most of us consider worthwhile political “criticism” but that kind of content-based judgment by state actors is PRECISELY what the First Amendment proscribes.

* Buck made his comment on Facebook, and no matter how publicly viewable that comment was, it was still private speech, that no one was obliged to read if they didn’t want to.

Democracy: Too Much of a Good Thing?

The cure for democracy, more democracy? I don’t know, really. Although, I am a democracy freak by instinct, I must admit that my better judgment has always tempered that enthusiasm. Tuesday’s events demonstrated how capricious the majoritarian will can be. On the one hand a it’s wonderful that the majority of Americans entrusted its most powerful office to Barack Obama, a self-identified member of a historically oppressed minority. On the other hand, a majority of Californians voting on Proposition 8 (prohibition of same-sex marriage) decided to adopt an expressly discriminatory policy against a discrete and insular minority that is powerless to overcome that policy with numbers of its own. Two other states passed similar measures.

Gay folks in those states won’t be able to marry anymore, but I’m guessing they can’t opt out of paying taxes that keep the marriage bureau — or whatever the relevant state machinery — operational.

This is the danger of majority-rule. To avoid becoming tyrannical, democracy must be checked by a strong principle of individual liberties. This is why the federal constitution (like a number of state constitutions) has a bill of rights.

Of course, most constitutions get their legitimacy from the ratification of a supermajority, and it’s tempting to propose that California adopt a policy requiring a supermajority to amend its constitution.

But consider this: if you are in a sufficiently tiny minority whose interest-overlap with the majority’s interests is sufficiently tiny, then, a supermajority just means you can be tyrannized by the “sovereignty” exercised by even more people, and have that tyranny be considered even more “legitimate” and have an even harder time overcoming that tyranny.

Speaking of too much of a good thing: it’s not just the “small-d” democrat in me that’s a little spooked. By electoral orientation, I am also a “big-D” Democrat. But I’m a little worried about single party control in washington. Unlike some Democrats, I sighed a sigh of relief that we didn’t get a filibuster-proof senate. The filibuster, like judicial review and the bill of rights, is part of the system of checks against ordinary majoritarian misrule. I understand that this protective device has been abused by each party in recent years. But the gridlock that such abuse creates is a far lesser evil than having one party in charge with insurmountable power.

Let There Be No Reason

I want to take a moment to congratulate The Mac. What a wonderfully gracious, unifying, and patriotic concession. I loved that he recognized, explicitly, the wounds of the past and the salve of progress  that has been a hallmark of the extraordinary history of this most extraordinary country.  He also recognized the importance of the civic engagement that Obama’s remarkable campaign has inspired.

“Let there be no reason now,” he said,  “for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on earth.”


I have often thought Michelle Obama’s “first time in my adult life” comment was understandable, if unfortunate. Throughout our country’s turbulent racial history, African Americans have had to look for sources of pride in their country, and often that has had to be aspirational, sometimes with ambivalent results. I have always been surprised at the willingness of many to condemn this internal struggle of African Americans, demanding that their patriotism be as reflexive as it is for the rest of us, being descendants of those who came freely to America (I realize that as an individual, Obama’s ancestors also came freely, but I’m talking about the psychological impact of his racial identity on all African Americans).

Tonight, I agree with the sentiment expressed by John McCain. I urge all Americans to be proud of their beautiful country. I say to them: don’t be too cautious about your celebration of what this means. While it was African Americans (or perhaps minorities generally) that McCain had in mind, I urge white Americans to shed their guilt and ignore any temptation there may be tonight to fight the catharsis they are feeling. I know catharsis can sometimes be a hindrance to practical progress. Those of us who live by constant self analysis sometimes make the mistake of employing Brechtian alienation strategy to deal with our emotional impulses in important moments.

But this particular catharsis is long overdue. Enjoy it.

Just as formal emancipation did not automtically bring de facto freedom to all the slaves, the election of a biracial man to our highest office doesn’t eradicate racial hatred, but it most certainly shatters the presumption of racial suspicion. I think this election has earned us the right and the freedom to deal with race openly, honestly, and respectfully. I hope we finally are unshackled from the culture where every discussion about race is fraught with unspoken judgments and fears. Judgments of racism and fear of knee-jerk accusations of racial animus.

Given our history of racial tensions, given the attempt of some to raise questions about Obama’s trustworthiness based (openly or obliquely) on his race, given that African Americans comprise a small minority of the American electorate, this election certainly shows, in the most concrete way, that America is a country where Martin Luther King’s dream — that one day we will judge each other by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin — can be realized.

Tonight has seen nothing short of the restoration of the American spirit. That’s a little sappy, I know. But on many, many fronts, the election of Obama is the turning of a new page; a better page. We have elected by a landslide, this unflinchingly dignified person who has insisted on unity and respect.

People have compared Obama’s moment in history with Kennedy and Reagan. I think that’s fair. But I think this is different — and better– in important ways. Kennedy inspired a lot of people, but he was elected by a very narrow margin, and had Herbert Hoover not pressed Nixon to concede, 1960 would have dragged on the way 2000 had. The fact that Obama was elected by such overwhelming numbers, gives me confidence that a lot of this excitement can and will translate into genuine cooperation and progress.

While Reagan inspired a lot of people and won by a landslide, his response to the people’s endorsement did not have the humility that Obama has shown. Reagan highlighted the triumph of his party’s point of view, whereas Obama praised Republicans, not just as people and patriots, but he specifically praised their values and promised to work with them on figuring out the directions in which we take our country in the months to come.

I know people who distrust Obama’s “unity” campaign. Some of my conservative friends point out that Obama is pretty clearly an ideological progressive and they wonder on what basis we should accept his post-partisan promises.

That’s where style comes in. In sharp contrast to a recent president who swaggered as he expressed his intention to spend his newly gained political capital because “that’s my style,” this new president-elect assured those who didn’t vote for him that he will be their president as well. He promised to listen. Most hearteningly for me, he promised to listen “especially when we disagree.”

I personally think he means it. He always has been a coalition builder. Even as a young man, serving as president of the Harvard Law Review, he confounded his fellow liberals’ expectations by including more conservatives than progressives on the editorial staff. Republicans, even free-marketers who deeply disagree with him on policy issues, have put their faith in him in significant numbers. I know people who think this kind of cross-ideological support is simply irrational. I think what they don’t understand is that people support this guy because they can work with him. Because the way he has conducted his life so far clearly shows his willingness to listen to and learn from and work with those who disagree with him. They trust his good faith in this respect. After eight years of stubborn arrogance, Americans of all points of view are ready for a little good faith and humility in their public-servant-in-chief.

As I got into a cab on my way home from the election-party, midtown Manhattan was bursting with joy, and the Egyptian-born driver who has just become a citizen and voted for the first time, smiled at the flag draped around my neck and said “it’s a beautiful night to be an American.”