John Tirman has a great essay in the Winter 2009 edition of The American Scholar. We've a new president en route to the White House, but do we really have a new national myth, something to energize the country and focus the energies of a continent? Isn't it time for one?
It's not enough that Barack Obama is black. That only takes us so far. What's the fuss if we've all got an equal shot at a first-class seat if the plane is going down? We need something more than a new seating arrangment. We need a new vision. We need a dream capable of yielding focus. Why not a vision that transforms the day-to-day task of living into a personal challenge that can yield something of meaning to each American?
Frontiers have been an energizing theme in American politics. Frederick Jackson Turner worried about the closing of the American frontier in the 1890s. We struck a new deal in the face of a vast depression. We've set the conquest of outer space as a national goal. We even stared down the Soviets. What new challenge requires focus and commitment?
The environment is an obvious challenge. And it is one that each of us can address, whether it be through a commitment to recycling, a decision to walk rather than ride, or the purchase of energy-efficient appliances. Why not make that the centerpiece of the Obama administration?
As Tirman notes: "Meeting the environmental challenge requires more than colossal investment in science and intensive diplomacy; it mandates a shift in the way we think about U.S. goals, our range of action, and our commitment to values beyond self-enrichment." Is Obama the president to inspire such a vision?
There's smoke in the air from something other than burning rain forests just now. The real estate bubble has burst. We're struggling to adjust to a reality not-financed with cheap paper held overseas. Sleeves rolled up, we face a future in which we must once again learn to equate the value of a thing with the labor it takes to create it.
Why not a call for a New Horizon now? We're spoiling the Earth with a headlong heedlessness that leaves us spiritually bankrupt. We are fouling our nest, packing it with credit card receipts, bogus mortgages and bills we cannot pay. How is it a City on a Hill is fast becoming a landfill?
Time for New Horizons? For commitments to sustaining techonologies and avoidance of waste? It's time for such a dream, and a leader to sing it to us. Will it be Obama? Will it?