The lack of basic knowledge of the traditions of Western thought is a sore affliction in anyone, but in people who are paid to write about important events, this lack is criminal. The commentary on President Obama’s Nobel lecture in Oslo yesterday has hit new lows in this regard.
Consider the front page, above the fold, article in this morning’s Washington Post. There we read, in a news article, this sentence: "In an echo of predecessor George W. Bush, he [Obama] noted that ‘evil does exist in the world.’" Oh, so it was W who first noticed the existence of evil in the world? This meme was frequently employed yesterday, especially by conservatives, the idea that Obama’s sophisticated speech could have been delivered by his predecessor. Are they mad? Obama’s speech showed a man heart had been inspired by King and Gandhi but whose mind is captivated by Reinhold Niebuhr. Is there any evidence that George W. Bush knows the difference between Niebuhr and knockwurst, or even who Niebuhr was?
Former GOP House Speaker applauded Obama’s speech and said, "I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn't be able to have a peace prize, without having force... I thought in some ways it's a very historic speech." Mr. Gingrich, who is an historian by nature and training, seems to have forgotten that the two World Wars were prosecuted by three liberal Presidents - Wilson, FDR, and Truman – and that the architecture of anti-communism was supported by liberals and conservatives alike. Closer to our own time, he has evidently forgotten that it was Bill Clinton who last dispatched the U.S. military to the continent of Europe.
Sean Hannity could not even bring himself to join those conservatives who praised the President’s speech. He said it lacked "moral clarity." By this, he evidently means that the President’s speech lacked moral simplicity, but a morality that lends itself to simplicity is, by definition, one that is not very clear. Hannity, you will recall, dropped out of seminary first and college later, and maybe he never got to the courses that taught moral theory. But, most adults have experienced moral ambiguity at some point in their lives and understand that artificial efforts to reduce the complexities of life to simple moral either/or equations are doomed to fail.
Yesterday, I felt so good about a culture that could produce a President capable of delivering such a speech. This morning, reading the responses, my view of our culture is less rosy. But, even this morning there is hope. George Stephanopoulos was introduced to the viewers of "Good Morning America." George holds a master’s degree in theology from Balliol College, Oxford. At this flagship show, it is comforting to know that someone who can use the adjective "Augustinian" correctly in a sentence will be in the driver’s seat.