An era of maturity

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.