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Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2009

AN ERA OF MATURITY.... Adam Serwer had an interesting take on Obama's inaugural address, arguing that the speech was, at its core, about maturity.

"We remain a young nation," Obama said, "but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things." After September 11, 2001 there was a lot of commentary to the effect that America had "entered adulthood" as we were introduced to the kind of harsh realities that other countries live with every day.

But we didn't react like adults. We lashed out like adolescents. We sought to banish our anxieties by making those who attacked us suffer, but when we couldn't find them, those who shared their language or religion would do. We played at adulthood, eschewing the hard choices that freedom and the rule of law demanded that we make. We were too grown for courts and trials, the pursuit and promise of those rights and ideals that make us who we are. Instead of putting away childish things, we embraced our least sophisticated, fearful impulses.

Today, Obama sought to provide a vision of our adulthood; an attitude that rejects the impulsiveness, painted as toughness, of the Bush years.

Re-reading the speech, Adam's critique rings true. There's no shortage of examples of what went wrong with our politics over the last eight years, but it's hard to escape the immaturity of our leadership and decision-making. The president too often resembled an impetuous child, with juvenile impatience. Obama's serious inaugural address seemed to underscore the notion that grown-ups are going to lead now.

Consider some of the examples Obama held up as things to reject: "petty grievances," "short-cuts," "those who prefer leisure over work" -- qualities reminiscent of adolescence. And who was held up for praise: "workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job," "a parent's willingness to nurture a child," troops who volunteer to serve as the "guardians of our liberty" -- examples of maturity.

One of the aspects of Obama that I always liked when he was a candidate was that he tended to talk up to people, not down. While Bush had a rhetorical tic on "in other words" -- as if we weren't sophisticated enough to understand his highfalutin arguments -- Obama tended to treat his audiences as if they were adults.

To that end, today's speech arguably had more than one theme, but it served as a reminder to the country: play time is over.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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oy, the "grown-up" meme, now as comparative -- as, say, was pushed by bush supporters in the year 2000.

(said in response to "inappropriate oral sex," i reckon)

no. we have good, generous, thoughtful people in charge now. not thugs, cronies, and incompetents. let's not excuse them as children... please. they were mostly men, bad men. crooks.

dick the monster cheney aint immature.

yer confusing the deeds of the bush adm. with the vocabulary of its mouthpiece.

Posted by: neill on January 20, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's about time the adults were back in charge! I know I'm ready to get to work.

Posted by: skybluewater on January 20, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

There's no shortage of examples of what went wrong with our politics over the last eight years, but it's hard to escape the immaturity of our leadership and decision-making.

And those who supported them, in print, on the airwaves and on the blogs.

Posted by: Gregory on January 20, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

WOW Adam Serwer is spot on here. In my book Bush spent his whole life being the school yard bully and that has been carried on his whole life. I would like to hear from old grade school classmates and see if this is a true assessment of the former (sounds good doesn't it) President

Posted by: redrover on January 20, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Another interesting line - Rather, it's been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things... who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

I interpret this as a rebuke to our economy. Rather than take a risk by starting a business, our system makes it much easier to merely get in the stock market, or create financial schemes that do little more than shuffle money and debt. We need an economy that actually produces goods and services.

Posted by: Danp on January 20, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, we do indeed need adults in charge. Just like immature children Bush and his friends have completely trashed the house that did not belong solely to them and are now slinking away to their own safe little houses. This was the story of Bush's entire life, trash everything and anything he wanted and then walk away without any consequences whatsoever.

Posted by: Chris on January 20, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing to me how many of the things that Bush claimed of himself (or were claimed for him by his apologists) which weren't true in the slightest, actually are true about Obama.

Reaching out to the other side? Check. Uniter? Check. Restoring civility and honor to the office? Check. Adults actually now in charge? Gigantic check.

Posted by: DH Walker on January 20, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter need to finally sober up or be left behind. We've heard too much of their puerile screeds based on the fear a child feels when he/she doesn't get his/her way! We've heard too much their hatred for civility and the adults in America! And we've heard too much from them period!

No more should media outlets allow such foiled Americans appear on air! Get other voices of dissent who will engage the policies and substance of the debate, not simply attack adversaries through ad hominen and innuendo.

The days of hollow fury are over! I will simply not listen to stale perspectives or divisive rhetoric! I will not be party to those who would waste my time, so I say to my brethren on the far right - grow up and give us something positive to work with! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 20, 2009 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite things:

1. Set aside childish things. Please god, let the media and blogosphere take this to heart.

2. Tip of the hat to non-believers. That's me, big-time.

3. Rick Warren's guts in showing up at all and almost plaintive appeal for some tolerance toward him and the people who believe in him. All I can say is, I'll try.

Posted by: Steve High on January 20, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Today, no one can rain on my parade. Absolutely no one. The right-wing blathering whiney-ass noise machine won't stop with his election, but the ground has shifted even if they don't see it. Their time has passed, at least for the foreseeable future. Thank God for that. As I listened to Obama speak, Bush, already a failed little man, seemed just to get smaller and smaller and smaller. Perhaps it was an optical illusion, and rather, Obama just loomed larger and larger. After the weight of Bush/Cheney Inc. bearing down on me for eight long years of my life, I feel like I’m two inches shorter, but I'm still standing with renewed hope that the tide has finally changed for the better. Today, I am but one of the millions upon millions of proud Americans who celebrate this historic day.

Posted by: sparrow on January 20, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

What? You mean we're being called upon to do more than shop?

Since we can't shop anyhow, I guess it's a good thing to get new marching orders.

Posted by: Cal Gal on January 20, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of childish things, dextronuts are prattling about the messed up Oath. Well, first I have heard Obama signed a paper version of the correct Oath earlier anyway - true?

But the issue about "so help me God" is a cogent and ironic one, and deserves to be thrown at wingnutjobs. The original Oath in the Constitutiion does not have that phrase as noted earlier. Since added language violates a quote just like a rearrangement, omission, etc., then all POTUSes who used that added phrase were not really President!

Make that point on every discussion group where you see assholes griping about Obama not getting the Oath just right, in addition to reminding them that Roberts screwed up first (forget the pause bit, it was his messing up the words after that.)

Posted by: Neil B ◙ on January 20, 2009 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Oh shut up. You're all poopy-heads.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on January 20, 2009 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Grown ups........if anything has shown itself to be true over the past eight years ...it is that the fringe of the democrat party, the vocal minority are anything but grown up. Chanting hey hey goodbye at a historic inauguration, having a shoe toss at dupont circle, pies in the face at colleges, adult? I don't particularly like Bush but I dislike Reid and Pelosi even more. One need only read the replies here to see just what childishness and quite frankly ignorance sounds like.

Posted by: Dave Rice on January 20, 2009 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

The "adult" reference probably wasn't only about Bush --- Clinton (for whom I voted twice) sullied the office acting like a self-absorbed adolescent. And before you all start leaping to his defense and talking about how unfair he was treated (and he was treated unfairly), the fact remains that his childishness opened the door to the criticism and paralysis that has infected our politics ever since. Even today he could barely eke out a smile that looked genuine.

Posted by: clarice on January 20, 2009 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

kevo: Yeah, the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter need to finally sober up or be left behind.

"I hope he fails.” - Rush Limbaugh 1/20/09

i am betting on left behind...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 20, 2009 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

The boomer Presidents, with all of their childish self indulgence, are gone. Time for grown ups.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 20, 2009 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

'The "adult" reference probably wasn't only about Bush ...' writes clarice and goes on to whop on poor "Lonesome Bill" Clinton.

Maybe, but I immediately thought about the government of Israel. Like the US on steroids, responding with extreme violence to any provocation, no matter small. A pig-headed refusal to even consider peace talks because "they're terrorists" - "they deny our Right To Exist™" - "they're human garbage." Taking the least criticism, or even a refusal to praise sufficiently, as meaning "you want all Jews to be dead!"

No, I'm not a neo-Nazi; I first read this in an op-ed by an Israeli Jew that was published in Israel: Israel is sixty years old; isn't it time it grows up?

The timing would be right. Israel' latest blitzkreig on Palestinians has appalled the world and even the US public would support a more even-handed US policy towards that conflict. If we're going to "grow up" and stop lashing out when we get scared, maybe other prominent allies might do likewise?

It's time for a change.

Posted by: Zandru on January 20, 2009 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

To that end, today's speech arguably had more than one theme, but it served as a reminder to the country: play time is over.

That may be. And certainly, maturity was one theme. But as a specific prescription it's a bitter pill for millions to swallow.

After all, over the past 8 years, more people worked harder for less. Income inequality soared. Benefits were cut. Productivity increased. Real wages didn't.

Play time? Tens of millions never got it during the Bush years. And now they're being told the hard times are about to start. If you read it that way, of course.

Posted by: Jay B. on January 20, 2009 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

The children are us, and it's because we've had an easy ride ever since WWII gave us dominion over the world's resources.

Most working class people don't feel it much, but the upper middle and rich classes have had it *extremely* easy.

One sign: celebrity gossip has been more important then public policy, judging by water-cooler talk.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on January 20, 2009 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

I mostly agree with Jay B. As for me the only children I know are children. I think most people have childish moments but I don't know a single adult who thinks the last 8 years have been playtime all fun and games. I disagree with anyone who thinks we've had an easy ride since WWII. I lived thru Viet Nam, riots that burned down Detroit, LA, DC, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK , Nixon, the Arab oil embargo, the Cold War, etc, etc ad infinitum ad nauseam, life has and always will be tough. So a very un-useful metaphor I believe.

Posted by: mickster on January 21, 2009 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure if I see the "maturity" angle, but I do get the "children" analog.. it's kinda like in Lord of the Flies, and now, Obama is the naval officer who steps on the island and order is restored.

Posted by: Andy on January 21, 2009 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised the wing nutters haven't been in screechy mode about some of Obama's speech. If I had been sitting next to Bush on the podium (or Cheney), there was more than a couple of times I would have poked Bush in the side and said, "Dude, you just got pwned!"

I"m guessing it all just went over Bush's head, but somebody will explain it to him later.

Posted by: Glen on January 21, 2009 at 4:15 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus are you people for real? Your adoration for the man is creepy, he has accomplished zero yet you worship him as if he is a savior....get a freakin grip already. I want him and more specifically the country to succeed but this is weird......

Posted by: Dave Rice on January 21, 2009 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Grown ups? I don't see any here. Just children still whining about "it's all Bush's fault". Or the VRWC.

I think I hear your Mom calling you to lunch.

Posted by: Robohobo on January 21, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

The adults are in charge now? Absolutely no evidence of that. The Democrats have spent the last 8 years whining like spoiled children and they're the adults? Nice try. Like Nancy Pelosi said two years ago, the power is now in the hands of America's children. Sure looks that way.

Posted by: alanstorm on January 21, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Adults now in charge---risible. Say what you will about the last 8 years, and there's plenty of bad things to say, but the idea that THEY were childish compared to the ones now coming in is absurd.

"Na na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" chanted at the outgoing President at the inauguration? Adult?

One of Obama's biggest problems will be getting his own party and esp. his most fervent followers to act like adults with real responsibilities and real, hard decisions to make, instead of being the petulant whiners so many have had the luxury of being for so long.

Posted by: Marty on January 22, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK



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