From the beginning, the power of Obama's speeches has come from his effortless blending of black and white American history, from his ability to twine together experiences we have come to think of as separate.
Today's speech was about something different. It was 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. It is no longer a time to put "leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame." While rejecting "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," Obama nevertheless promised that "we will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense." This is not "Bring it on." This is not "Dead or Alive." It is time to put away the cowboy hats and pop guns, for "the world has changed, and we must change with it."
-- A. Serwer