Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To Lead Or Not To Lead

So, it’s the day after the election and the Democrats have taken control of the House (huzzah!) and possibly the Senate (huzzah! huzzah!) and my faith in the American people has been restored.

Now what?

How about delivering on those campaign promises to take this country in a new direction, and by new direction I don’t mean “cut and run” in Iraq, I mean an end to the in-fighting between Republicans and Democrats and an end to the divisiveness that has not served our nation particularly well these past six years.

Nancy Pelosi is the new Speaker of the House, the first female ever to hold that position (how cool is that, how sad that it’s such an anomaly). Here is what I hope is NOT on Madame Speaker’s agenda: getting even. Here’s what I hope is: reconciliation.

I have to believe that in the Red State-Blue State debate, we all actually agree more than we disagree. So let’s stop throwing out red herrings like gay marriage that only distract people from more substantial issues, the ones politicians can’t reduce to sound bites. Let’s look at health care and education and energy and infrastructure and the fact that we don’t seem to make anything anymore in this country. And let’s come together and find some answers and work out some compromises that will please the vast majority of citizens in the middle, and too damn bad for the folks on the fringes.

* * *

Over the weekend, I attended a fascinating lecture on Shakespeare delivered by Ralph Williams, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. So what does a man writing in 1600 have to say about the state of the world in 2006? Everything.

Shakespeare’s early history plays—Henry IV, Richard III—are filled with political climbers murdering one ruler after another in their own grab for power. Conflict, corruption and revenge are the overriding themes. In Julius Caesar, the playwright all but invents the pre-emptive strike (kill Caesar or be killed) and political spin. And where does all this lead, according to Williams? Death and futility.

In Shakespeare’s later plays, another theme emerges. Forgiveness. The possibility that humans wronged will be restrained and respond with kindness. From The Tempest: “The rarer act is in virtue than in vengeance.” Williams’ conclusion: To be kindly in the face of the powerful urge to revenge—there is the path to freedom.


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