Like the two million people who went to the inauguration, I’m captivated by the change in administration.
Although my personal politics are non-partisan (heh, heh), I think that Obama has demonstrated – even apart from his political slant – sophisticated and agile leadership. The most important evidence is his ability to stay connected to people who think differently. He is motivated by curiosity and a sense that everyone has a view worth sharing.
I share some interests with our President. I moved to Chicago in 1992 because community organizing was part of the Divinity School ministry curriculum. Furthermore, the city’s physical landscape was organized around neighborhoods, and the city was a laboratory for many different kinds of effective, non-state institutions. In 1982 it elected Harold Washington, who some think was one of the truly great politicians of all time – a man who combined realism with idealism in a way that transformed Chicago. At the time, I was fascinated by Chicago much more than New York. And Chicago also gave me a full fellowship.
The university itself was also the center of rigorous conservative thought. It avoided an instinctive leftish position but was rigorous and fair, generally unimpressed by identity politics. Obama’s teaching at Chicago was a time when he would have been connected to social action, politicking, and conservatism that would help ground his ability to look at the world in complicated ways. I think this is a worthy gift – being able to see the world through many different lenses.
He inherits a challenge. Yet, our role is not to assent without understanding, to idealize without reflecting, or to worship. We must still organize ourselves as witnesses to love in the world, speak truth to power, and hold up a mirror to our leaders, holding them accountable for their actions. We can do so by remaining magnanimous and remembering the cardinal rule of organizing: there are no permanent enemies. Which is another way of saying, “love your neighbor.”