But there was a second, less sympathetic, Obama enthusiasm at work. In a Newsweek essay, Michael Hirsh mentioned Obama's racial achievement. But he went on to say that "there's something else that I'm even happier about -- positively giddy. ... What Obama's election means, above all, is that brains are back." Hirsh declared that the Obama era means the defeat of "yahooism" and "jingoism" and "flag-pin shallowness" and "religious zealotry" and "anti-intellectualism." Obama is a "guy who keeps religion in its proper place -- in the pew."
There is much to unpack here. Can it be that Hirsh is "even happier" about the advance of liberal arrogance than he is about the advance of racial justice? And would the civil rights movement have come at all if African-American religion had stayed "in the pew"? But suffice it to say that some wish to interpret the Obama victory as a big push in the culture war -- as an opportunity to attack their intellectual and cultural "inferiors."
Most of us have witnessed this attitude, usually in college. The kids who employed contempt instead of argument, who shouted down speakers they didn't agree with, who thought anyone who contradicted them had a lower IQ, who talked of "reason" while exhibiting little of it. They were often not the brightest of bulbs. Most people recover from this childish affliction. Some do not.
President Obama showed unfortunate hints of this attitude during the campaign, in criticizing those who "cling to guns or religion." But he won the presidency, in part, by effectively blunting this edge of disdain -- by extinguishing the culture war with his soothing manner and pragmatism instead of igniting it with liberal arrogance and bitterness. And that kind of ideological smallness is perhaps the greatest threat to the broad coalition of Americans Obama will need in the coming days of challenge.
So this week I stand firmly with Lewis' joy and against Hirsh's contempt. And I offer my own inaugural prayer: God bless President Obama -- and God save him from some of his supporters.