Friday, May 22, 2009

Two Ways of Seeing America's Future

Diana Butler Bass writes today, in a Progressive Revival essay, a response to yesterday's somewhat oddly juxtaposed speeches about America's national security. Rarely do you have the President of the United States answered just minutes later by the recently departed Vice President, and yet that's what happened. Obama speaking from within the National Archives, surrounded by our founding documents spoke eloquently to the rule of law and America's moral foundations, which he believes (rightly in my view) have been undermined by the recently departed administration. Dick Cheney has been on a nationwide circuit arguing vociferously not only that Obama is wrong in his policies, but that the Bush-Cheney policies should be seen as the proper response to challenging circumstances.

Yesterday I heard part of a conversation about the dueling visions -- on one hand we have a long term vision (Obama's), while Cheney argues for dealing with short term issues. In many ways, Cheney has embraced with a passion the situational ethics that liberals are supposed to embody.

Getting back to Diana, she has written a most interesting and provocative piece for Progressive Revival, rooting her analysis in the observations of George Lakoff, who suggested some years back that the Republicans represented the "stern father" perspective of family life, while the Democrats represented a "nurturing parent" perspective." In many ways Cheny comes off, Diana says, as that stern parent, telling the upstart child that he's being naughty (my words). She writes:

He chided Obama as a parent might correct an erring child--delivering a verbal conservative spanking to the young upstart who (according to Cheney) doesn't understand the ways of the real world. He protected the traditions of the older generation, applauding himself for his own wisdom and insight--all the while reassuring the rest of the fearful family that his way is the right way. Stay on the course of the Fathers (Cheney and Bush) and all will be well.


Obama, she notes did speak out of that nurturing parent role, but with a twist. There is much in the speech that speaks of empathy -- much as Democratic Presidents have in the past. But the twist is in Obama's rooting of that empathy in the Law. It is the Law that displays empathy.

The entire speech, delivered at the National Archives (the building that houses our most cherished legal documents), argued that the closest possible attention to the traditions of the law would both protect us from harm and save our national soul. The nurturing parent is not an individual, policies, or government. In Obama's progressive politics, the law nurtures the American family with its hopes for happiness, fairness, community, and justice.

This emphasis on the law-as-nurturing parent helps explain Obama's own coolheaded and dispassionate nature--he is able to stand alongside an issue and analyze it through the lens of legal traditions. And it also explains his remark on wanting an "empathetic" Supreme Court justice. He wants someone who shares this vision of the nurturant law as his legacy on the Court.

Diana notes that Obama's views are rooted both in his understanding of US law, but also in the Judeo-Christian traditions that have also helped form his understandings of the world.

So, which vision of America will you choose to embrace -- that of the stern, knowing father figure that does what's necessary, or the nurturing parent who takes the long view, one rooted in Law?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought CNN did a good job on this one. They had one commentary that actually congratulated both men for their boldness and willingness to share their views. (isn't that what america is REALLY about?) You don't have to agree with them, but at least they are taking the backbone on the issue. Contrast this with Congress.. Pelosi wasn't told, or her staffer was told, or the CIA mislead her, or... Take a position and defend.. so I actually applaud both men in this case.

I FINALLY read a conservative "justification" if you will on torture. This was on cnn.com:

"The NT [New Testament] is clear that God grants the right of the 'sword' to the state to be used against wrongdoers," Kuykendall says. "Just as I believe I don't have a right to vengeance personally, I do believe that I can seek justice through the state and call the police on a robber, or a gunman threatening my life."

Chuck Colson said that Christians are supposed to obey the law, but there may be times when there is a higher obligation, such as ignoring a "no trespassing" sign to rescue a drowning man.

"So it is with torture," Colson wrote. "If a competent authority honestly believes that this was the only way to get information that might save the lives of thousands, I believe he would be justified."

I am conservative, but I can't bite on these arguments. It tends to give government a free pass on difficult issues. Who is fully competent? Justice for a violation is one thing, but do we do an injustice to prevent a possible violation?

I don't really have a good answer personally on this issue as I haven't fully wrestled it out. Torture is such a big and broad word. Pulling fingernails is torture and clearly wrong... but too much homework could be consider torture to a student. My one dig is that I do find it fascinating that people who openly support abortion find so much passion on this issue.

Chuck

Anonymous said...

Chuck, Why would the VP office be so consumed with this?

Al-Libi's tortured and knowingly fabricated testimony was the source of information used by Bush to sell the war to the U.S. Senate, and the source for Colin Powell's bogus presentation to the United Nations in 2003. What were the questions put to him under torture? We still need answers.

I think Cheney is nothing more than a war profiteer trying to justify his actions so he can enjoy his spoils in peace.

I have dealt with people who have worked with Cheney in the private sector. Nothing they said would cause me to give him any slack.

David Mc

Anonymous said...

Read up Chuck,

Google Al-Libi (an alibi)?

Is that ironic or what?

David Mc

Anonymous said...

It could be Cheney mearly swallowed the bait-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/nov/17/iraq.usa