Sunday, December 21, 2008


Over the years of the Bush presidency, and the Clinton presidency, a certain stridency gained power in our political world. Particularly in the Bush years, people who believe in personal freedom, tolerance, personal responsibility, genuine conservatism, and all those other good American values, despaired. Bush's complete refusal to engage with reality - to do what made sense, what was right - drove us into a very cold and lonely and angry place.

And now we've managed, against all hope, to elect a leader who is not Bush. Andrea and I read both of his books during our road trip to the east coast. To be fair, Andrea did all the reading, and I did most of the driving, which was a happy bit of teamwork for both of us. So we have some sense of the views that Obama espouses.

When I see one group of people get together and say "that person there, that person is a bad person, we must not speak with that person, and must not associate with him," I get suspicious. Words can be used to wound, it's true, but when we close out our fellows because we do not agree with them, the cost is severe.

The point of being friends with someone with whose views you don't agree, aside from the fact that to be a friend is simply a better, more humane thing to do than to be an enemy, is that if you are friends with someone, if you treat them with respect, if you listen to them, and if they come to see you as a friend, then you have a kind of access. You can talk to them. You can figure out why they believe what they believe. And then you have some hope of convincing them that some of what they believe may be mistaken.

If you treat that same person as an enemy, you have no hope of ever communicating with them. You are at war with them. Driving through Hope, Arkansas, we couldn't get an NPR station, and so I wound up listening to a bit of American Family Radio. The people on this network think of us, the liberals, the genuine conservatives, as the enemy. They cannot hear what we have to say. They are at war with us. They literally talk about it in the same terms that we talk about the war in Iraq. They talk about winning the culture war.

We can't have that. But if we are to have something else, we have to stop thinking of it as a war, thinking of our fellow Americans as enemies, and imagining that we have the wherewithal to defeat them. We do not. The more we make enemies of them, and criticize them, and try to marginalize them, the harder they will fight back.

These are not evil people. Most of the people who listen to American Family Radio would be offended if you proposed to them that they do violence to another person. Most of them do not support the horrible things that real extremists do - things like dragging a person to death, or bombing an abortion clinic. But they don't know us, because we reject them. There is no chance at all that they will ever hear our side of the story, because we refuse to hear theirs. We call their side of the story evil, and leave it at that.

This is what drives the culture war. This is something Obama talks about at length in his books, particularly in the Audacity of Hope, but also in Dreams of My Father. Obama sees this culture war, and has spoken about it over and over again in his speeches on the campaign trail. We knew what we were getting into when we voted for him. The Audacity of Hope is an audacity that allows us to lay down our arms and try to connect with people we don't always agree with. To include them in our brotherhood and sisterhood, in hopes that in so doing, we will have a chance to engage in genuine dialog with them.

It is time for us to come out of that cold, lonely, angry place we have been for the past eight years and more. We want to micromanage the Obama presidency the way we tried to micromanage the Bush presidency, because we are used to it. It is what we have been doing for so long.

But now is a time for hope, a time for trust. We put Obama in the White House. Rather than judging him for trying to open a dialog with the people on the other side of the culture war, we need to give him the space to try to end the culture war. We need to try to let go of the aged and refined rage and anger that we have bottled up these past years, and have the audacity to hope that the man we put in office will in fact bring an end to this war. And that means we need to stop yelling at him about Reverend Warren and understand that in inviting Reverend Warren to the inauguration he is doing *exactly* what he promised to do, and what we elected him to do: reunite our country.