Self-Awareness

Americans often lack this necessay trait — I think we are a nation that fits well into the old adage: “It takes ten years to find the faults in oneself that it takes ten minutes to find in others.”

I happened upon Philip Stevens Financial Times column today, and found that, indeed, it’s a British columnist who has his finger on the pulse of the American spirit far more than any American columnist I’ve read.

I suggest reading the column in its entirety, but here are some of my favorites:

Speaking in Chicago’s Grant Park, Mr Obama offered his own story as an eloquent answer to the charge that the US has lost the idealism of its founding fathers. He might have added that a world, transfixed by his election victory, gave testimony to the continuing fact of American power. The US has been greatly weakened by Mr Bush’s mistakes, but everyone else still looks to Washington to set their foreign policy compass.

There have been a great many pundits who’ve warned young Americans that the promise we see in Obama will surely leave us disappointed.  The poetry of the campaign will give way to dirty, gridlocked legislative manuevering.  But Stevens knows this, and reminds us why this fact is of little consequence:

There are caveats, of course. It should be obvious to all that expectations of Mr Obama are impossibly high. Even so singular a politician will struggle to make the transition from the soaring poetry of the campaign to the workaday prose of government.

Rhetoric will not fix the US economy; or save the planet from climate change. Eloquence will not get US troops out of Iraq; or the Taliban out of Afghanistan. For all that, the simple fact of Mr Obama’s victory has changed the geopolitical game.

The world did not have a vote in the US election. It understood, though, that it had a vital interest in the outcome. John McCain had earned the respect of many leaders around the world. But among most electorates, a victory for the Republican candidate would have been greeted with a collective cry of anguish. Instead, many scores of millions have celebrated America’s choice.

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