I should point out that my post, "How shall we judge our new leader?", was not plagiarized from Amy Welborn's post, "Put not your trust." I say that in jest, but we did hit on several of the same points and we quote the same Juan Williams' piece. In fact, I just read Amy's excellent post a couple of hours ago for the first time. Highly recommended. A quick taste:
Secondly, why do people need a president to give them hope? Let me repeat - I can see it in relationship to #1 above, that he functions in that way - but, in general, who needs the presence of a particular individual in the White House to shape how they feel about life, about possibility, about the responsibility to serve others?
The topic of "hope", as Amy notes, was a key part of the campaign run by President Obama; the "audacity of hope" was both catchy and rather inchoate. I was struck, in watching a bit of the television coverage yesterday, by the number of people who talked about "having hope" and "needing hope" and so forth as they spoke about the election and the inauguration. The Seattle Times ran an editorial cooing about how "Inauguration Day 2009 was an adult conversation about the audacity of hope." There is now hope for the economy, hope for international affairs, hope for the entire world, hope for equality, hope for just about everything. Ta-da!
Ironically, some of the news articles and opinion pieces that talked about this vague and ill-defined (never-defined?) "hope" also spoke of the victory of "pragmatism" over against "ideology", the advent of an "optimistic pragmatism", and the acceptance of a "centrist pragmatism." (Of course, pragmatism itself can easily become an ideology of sorts, so the "pragmatism" vs. "ideology" construct seems a bit contrived.) It is beyond me how hope that is as wildly unrealistic as it is widely bantered can be squared with a practical, foot-firmly-on-terra-firma approach to matters. Part of answer surely lies in the desire for "spiritual leadership" mentioned by Amy. I touched on this notion a couple of years ago in an article, "An Apologetic of Hope," written for This Rock:
In recent decades, theories about politics and society have frequently been based on the belief that freedom, human dignity, and justice are shifting cultural values or man-made ideas created to meet particular needs at various points in history. This is the essence of trendy theories that undermine belief in an objective, transcendent moral order. Their materialist assumptions lead to the belief that man’s "hope" and "meaning" is found in material things—ranging from political movements to fine wine to video games—and that progress is inevitable because of advances in science and technology. Man’s hope for anything beyond himself is diverted into dead ends, including the literal ones produced by abortion, euthanasia, and other "solutions" to man’s material problems.
In a culture of death, the tension that man experiences as one who is "on the way" must be dulled or destroyed. As Peter Kreeft shows in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, the questions "In what may I hope?" and "What may I hope for?" are either infrequently asked or are relegated to the realm of private belief. Sometimes they are "answered" by pointing the questioner to earthly hopes for improved health, longer life, more justice, less hate, a helpful government.
But man is desperate to reach beyond himself, to find fulfillment beyond this world. Christians should readily pose questions pointing to true hope: Why do I exist? What is the meaning of my life? What am I living for? Is there something beyond here and now? It is Christian hope, based in the gospel, that answers man’s questions about his ultimate destiny.
All of this, of course, is addressed far more eloquently and with profound insight by Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi (which came out after my article, otherwise I would have referenced it many times):
Faith in politicians is a perilous path, whatever one's political persuasion. Some of President Obama's supporters will undoubtedly be frustrated, even angry, as he makes decisions and implements policies. On the other hand, those of us with many questions and doubts may be surprised. Hopefully for the best, but it's best to be a bit pragmatic about one's chances when earthly, political hopes are the issue at hand.