Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The President-Reflect

I've been saying for 9 months that Obama would be our next president. One reason I believed this was that his story fulfills our desire for a movie-script presidency. He rises from humble obscurity to national glory. Movies influence American culture and ideals in deep, powerful ways. We want our president to embody all that. Obama did. We voted for his movie.

Last night, after Obama's victory speech, my roommate and I sat watching, and listening to the music. "I feel like I'm watching a movie," he said.

I agreed. In unison, we both pointed to the television and directed, "And...roll credits."

It seems we weren't the only ones experiencing movie-quality history. The Suburban Christian points to the MTV Movies Blog, regarding the soundtracks that captured the moments of McCain's concession and Obama's ascendancy:

Movie lovers might have noticed that each man chose music from a Washington movie to play while walking offstage after their respective speeches. And, not for nothing, but we think they both made the perfect choice.

Consider: McCain left the Arizona stage to part of Hans Zimmer’s score from “Crimson Tide.” (This part, actually.) The 1995 Tony Scott film focused on a career Navy man (Gene Hackman), labeled a maverick by some, who is stripped of his authority and ultimately beaten by a young black guy, somewhat new to the scene (Washington).

Then there was Obama, who left the stage to the strings of Trevor Rabin’s score from “Remember the Titans.” The 2000 Disney/Bruckheimer joint? It followed an African-American coach who brought together whites and blacks to win a championship.

The music was appropriate for these national moments because those movies do embody something of this national story.

At the outset I said that movies influence American culture and ideals. Perhaps its not the movies that influence our ideals but that our ideals that are embodied by our movies. Perhaps it is not a vision given to us but a mirror held up to show us what we hope for. Perhaps both our movies and our president are reflections of who we are as a people.

Ultimately, it works both ways. Our movies and presidents mirror us, but those mirrors also change us. We look into the mirror to know ourselves better, and what we see and learn there changes how we live and what we choose.

Today, now that we see ourselves a bit more clearly, we need not gaze like Narcissus forever at our own reflection. Rather, we should go and live and choose as we ought in light of those reflections. The mirror can only show us who we are, but we must choose who we will become. We must choose and act, not just watch and wait.

Otherwise, to remain gazing at our own reflection will change us. And it is not the kind of change we can believe in. Whether we stand and admire or stand and despise, we will not simply see a reflection anymore. We will have become the reflection in the mirror. Then there will be nothing left of the people standing in front of the mirror. We will be false fronts and green-screen images of ourselves. And when the mirror shatters, as they all do in the end, we will find that we have broken with it.

1 comment:

Ben B said...

Since Adam learned of my “coming out of the closet” moment recently, I thought I would share why I thought that voting for Obama was an easy choice for this former Bush staffer and self professing Christian conservative.

In order of importance:

1. Remember the Titans is like, a way better movie than Crimson Tide.

2. Obama holds a cautious Biblical-oriented worldview. Unlike McCain, Obama has a deep suspicion of utopian Promises, rooted in an appreciation of the sinfulness of man and the recalcitrance of history. At Rick Warren’s forum, the pastor asked both candidates how they would deal with evil. McCain, to rapturous applause, said “we defeat it”. Obama’s nuanced answer did not receive the same applause but his approach was deeply Biblical: “It has to be confronted squarely…we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God’s task.” Obama holds to a faithful ordering of allegiances between the city of God and the city of Man.

3. Obama actually delivers more for the Pro-Life position. Obama wants funded pre- and post-natal care, maternity leave, and income support for poor women, who, studies show, are four times more likely to pursue an abortion absent tangible assistance. The Republican position to simply reverse Roe vs. Wade – very unlikely, in my judgment – will merely transfer the question to the states, most of which are not expected to ban abortion. A “pro-lifer” serious about preserving life could reasonably find Obama's educational and material assistance to mothers the practical, stronger alternative. Pro-life activists should reconsider the original strategy of the late 1970s: to identify with and pressure both Parties.

4. The Republican Party no longer stands for conservative principles and is dangerously utopian concerning America’s relation to the world. Today’s elected conservatives have betrayed the core conservative principles—as I see them--of limited government and individual liberty, traditional civic virtues, and suspicion of utopian promises.
• The faux conservatism of big business and big empire has thrived. Federal spending has increased 50% to $3 trillion per year with no regard to balance the budget as the national debt has jumped from$5.7 to $9.7 billion, and the increased judicial power of the government over our daily lives under W. should not just be the lament of the liberals. Obama holds to a conservative respect for the market as the generator of wealth, but combines that with a wariness of the market’s corrosive impact on humane values. Limited government does not simply entail small government, but a deep appreciation of its limits, which is why, for example, Obama is a big supporter of faith-based initiatives.
• Obama can produce a more civic virtue minded nation. Rather than summoning Americans to rally to their country, Republicans validated conspicuous consumption as the core function of 21st-century citizenship. Conservatism holds that the pursuit of instant gratification, the compulsion to accumulate, and the exaltation of celebrity are tendencies that should be curbed. Obama has the cultural power to reverse these tendencies. Will poor people listen to McCain if he tells them to turn the TV off? Obama has the cultural draw to empower inner-city families to turn off the TV and focus on parenting.
• Republicans have a misguided liberal approach to foreign policy, based on the expectation of deploying military might to eliminate tyranny, transform the Greater Middle East, and expunge evil from the face of the earth. Liberal ideology has supplanted careful, strategic, and conservative statecraft. A John McCain presidency would have provided a new lease on life to American militarism, while perpetuating the U.S. penchant for global interventionism marketed under the guise of liberation. Obama’s foreign policy tendency to see the world in non-ideological prudence and belief in diplomacy is actually the classic conservative position.

So where does that leave us? I think those who identify as socially conservative Christians should relax and take a deep breath. They should think carefully about the future of political conservatism (goggle Communitarianism), engage cautiously with the Democratic Party, think deeply about the dangers of publicly linking Christian identity with political engagement in a multicultural nation, and most importantly begin to identify more with our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, rather than as a citizen of the American state.