Some social observers have long complained that too many Americans function more as consumers than citizens. There's plenty of blame for this to go around, including our excessive shopping culture, a news media that focus more on fluff than real issues (like the lingering problems in the banking industry), and government's failure to offer the kind of oversight that might have precluded the current fiscal crisis.
Yesterday, President Obama served notice of a new day (NYT):
At times, Mr. Obama seemed to chastise the nation, quoting Scripture to caution that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” It seemed a call to end an age of overconsumption and the presumption that America had a right to lead the world, a right that he reminded “must be earned.”
The chiding, if most resonant of the last eight years, also harked back to an argument he advanced early in his run for the White House: that the nation had been ill-served by the social, cultural and political divisions of the generation that included Bill Clinton as well as Mr. Bush.
Every time Mr. Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly signaling a commitment to remake America’s approach to the world and to embrace pragmatism, not just as a governing strategy but also as a basic value.
If Obama can succeed in advancing this pragmatism, it will stand as a major achievement.