Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Engaging with difficulty

A.O. Scott has been making a plea for maturity and engagement, in the form of a moral protest against a recent film:
Really, “Away We Go” is about the flight from adulthood, from engagement, from responsibility, even as it cleverly disguises itself as a search for all those things. But the dream of being left alone in a world of your own making, far from anything sad or icky or difficult, is a child’s fantasy.
Stirring stuff. Likewise concerning topics on which it is difficult to talk sensibly, or well, consider the following:

an insightful and sane essay on the Wikipedia revolution;

a meditation on work and thought in the trades, versus the office;

and a report on the frontline of a change of medical practice in the States.

Concerning health care, one of the avowed goals of the Obama presidency, it is good to see that there has been at least some attempt to learn from past mistakes:
It has been 16 years, in fact, since another young, freshly inaugurated Democratic president with a Democratic Congress tried to remake the architecture of health care, and the catastrophe that followed is generally cited as the main deterrent to thinking big about anything in the capital. The plan Bill Clinton took to Congress then, running to more than 1,000 pages of impenetrable new regulations, wasn’t what you’d call politically savvy, but the strategy used to sell it was even worse. Having been elected as the latest in a series of outsider presidents after Watergate, ex-Governor Clinton seemed to believe he had been sent by the voters to purify the fetid culture of Washington; he installed a boyhood friend as his chief of staff and stocked his White House with loyal Arkansans and campaign aides ready to overrun a fossilized Congress. His wife, the current secretary of state, developed the health care plan largely without taking House and Senate leaders into her confidence, instead dropping it at the doorstep of the Capitol as a fait accompli. Ever jealous of its prerogative, Congress took a long look, yawned and kicked the whole plan to the gutter, where it soon washed away for good — along with much of Clinton’s ambition for his presidency.

The first senator elected directly to the Oval Office since 1960, Obama has an entirely different theory of how to exercise presidential power, and he has consciously designed his administration to avoid Clinton’s fate. After winning the office with the same kind of outsider appeal as his predecessors, he has quietly but methodically assembled the most Congress-centric administration in modern history ... Obama seems to think that the dysfunction in Washington isn’t only about the heightened enmity between the parties; it’s also about the longstanding mistrust between the two branches of government that stare each other down from twin peaks on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
How people continue to regard Obama as a pushover and a mere talker escapes me.

I have also been enjoying, together with the occasional cringe-moment, the president's Cairo address. A well-taken Middle Eastern appreciation, along the lines of “Yes, but ...”, can be found here. David Brooks also has some characteristically tendentious but insightful comments on the tensions in Obama's approach.

Several bloggers, fellow fans of the Archbishop of Canterbury, have been reminding me of his Cairo speech five years ago, on the different but related topic of respectful dialogue between Christians and Muslims on the nature of God: on what is agreed, as well as on the disagreements, and on being careful to distinguish the two.

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