Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The discontents of the Obama age

I find myself this morning thinking about the men and women of our country least positioned to thrive in the age of Obama. What I mean is this: Sen. Obama is a remarkable cultural and social symbol. What does he symbolize? Difference. Thoughtfulness. Education. Deliberation. Rationality. Multiculturalism. And of course, change.

These are the traits that have led educated, urban voters toward Sen. Obama from the very beginning. He is 21st century. Cosmopolitan. Sophisticated.

What strikes me, however, is how many rural counties and southern states maintained their 'red-state' persona in the face of this sea-change around them.

These counties and states, and the men and women who live there, are on my mind. Men and women frightened that rampant immigration is changing America's culture. Men and women who call into talk-radio to complain about the influx of minorities. Men and women who see themselves rapidly turning from the majority to the minority, and who expect government to protect them from this change. Men and women who teasingly refer to educated men and women as 'elites.' Men and women whose own educational experiences are limited. Men and women who consider themselves the 'real America' and who respond to political rhetoric that assures them as much.

On one hand my own instincts lead me to treasure 'tradition' and to preserve the sacred. So I understand where these men and women are coming from. But on the other hand, social change is a fact. Men and women who think they can stand in change's way are fooling themselves. Politicians who tell them change is to be feared are manipulating them to their own advantage.

In the end, the human mind needs change to reach its potential. Habits must all the time be examined and re-examined according to new conditions. Individuals must celebrate these new conditions, because they make intelligence possible.

So, let me say, men and women of the south: there are lots of good reasons not to vote for Sen. Obama. Fear, however, is not one of them. Use this changing country to find new and better reasons to believe what you do. Remind us of tradition and of the notion of the sacred. But adapt these ideas to the new conditions around us. And as you rightly criticize President Obama in the days and years ahead, constantly remind yourself: If nothing else, you are at least smarter for the change that he has brought us.

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