10 September 2009

Morality Amidst the Noise

When the President mentioned last night in his longed for health care reform address before Congress that health care reform was a "moral issue," it created a great sense of relief for millions of Americans, including me. After last week's annual bacchanal--the Labor Day/West Indian Parade, over whose din and beating techno I harbored to explain what a labor union was to my daughters, saturation from a culture hell-bent on satisfying its immediate desires over the long-term investment of the moral and ethical life had me drowning in near misery.

Facebook debates; Twitter updates; virtual town halls; white board postings; and this radically ubiquitous form of communication--the blog--have only enhanced the noise.

Despite every media innovation at our disposal, it finally took a good old fashioned political spectacle--the Joint Session of Congress--and a speech from the President of the United States, to reframe the debate into one in which the rules of engagement would be civil (notwithstanding the juvenile display from Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson, whose outburst only proves the point about Republican tactics this past summer.)

I for one noticed, watching with my daughters last night, that President Obama held forth with incredible dignity in the face of lies hurled at him; veiled death threats all summer long; racism and hatred never before displayed to any President that I can remember; and he would have had every right to stand before the country and yell back.

He didn't. He commanded, which is what he was elected to. Thank God.

A moral debate is necessary here. And I for one am glad it was finally made.

On Tuesday, while walking in the neighborhood, I ran into an elderly man who prays at a neighboring synagogue. We have known each other a long time, have studied together, seen each other at shared community events. Last summer, I taught his grandson in Israel.

He greeted with me the question, "What are you reading these days, rabbi?" What a question! And we talked about Hirsch's commentary to Psalms (he's reading it, too.) Leo Strauss, the Radosh's book on Truman and Israel, and Guttenplan's biography of I.F. Stone, recommended to me by one of Stone's early biographers, the journalist Andrew Patner. We had a great conversation--about the New Year, about Israel and America, and about a better path we all can take.

It seems so simple amidst all the noise in our culture--a sidewalk encounter among the generations about books, ideas, and the way forward.

We didn't Tweet or Post; we merely shook hands and wished one another a Sweet New Year.

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