Still enjoying the other guy’s Super Bowl
By Aaron Friedberg Like most of my colleagues on this blog, I suspect, and many of our readers, I approach today’s inauguration with a certain measure of ambivalence. My team lost, so watching the festivities over the last few days has been a bit like going to the other guy’s Super Bowl party. The unrestrained ...
By Aaron Friedberg
By Aaron Friedberg
Like most of my colleagues on this blog, I suspect, and many of our readers, I approach today’s inauguration with a certain measure of ambivalence. My team lost, so watching the festivities over the last few days has been a bit like going to the other guy’s Super Bowl party. The unrestrained gush of mainstream media enthusiasm for our new president, his appointees, his family, friends, and care in selecting a pet has gone from merely tiresome to truly unbearable. Most important, while Barack Obama is clearly decent, intelligent and well-intentioned, and while his impulses appear thus far to be moderate, I am concerned about the policies he will pursue once in office. Will he succumb to his party’s tendency to place too much faith in the powers of the state when addressing domestic challenges, and too much trust in diplomacy and international institutions when confronting foreign threats?
For me, at least for the moment, these feelings are counterbalanced by sensations of pride in the functioning of our political system and profound optimism about the future of our country. The peaceful transfer of power is so commonplace that we rarely even remark upon it. The fact that, in this case, the newly elected president has promised to alter some (though by no means all) of the policies of his predecessor is also a sign that our institutions are functioning as intended. The Founders designed a great equilibrating engine, one that is capable of making course corrections without swinging wildly between extremes. It is only through periodic shifts in partisan control that we can arrive at a public consensus and a sustainable mix of policies for dealing with long-term challenges like those posed by terrorism or the rising costs of energy.
The election of the first African American president is, of course, a great achievement in itself, one that would have been inconceivable only a few decades ago. It is a sign of the progress that has been made in overcoming racial prejudice, a step towards a society that is truly equal in the opportunities that it provides, and a rebuke to those who delight in lecturing Americans about their supposed backwardness. (I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a person of African descent to be elected to high office in most parts of Europe.)
Above all, Barack Obama’s inauguration is a reminder of this country’s unparalleled capacity for renewal and growth. The setbacks of the last few years and the depths of the current economic crisis have caused some observers to suggest that the United States is past its prime and that other nations with different systems (China perhaps?) represent the wave of the future. Anyone tempted to sell American stock short should be sure to tune in for today’s events.
Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1987, and co-director of the School of Public and International Affairs' Center for International Security Studies.
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