Some commentators have called 2008 "the moment of truth election." The phrase seems to expand in all directions. It's the moment of truth for an out of control financial system and hapless home owners in over their heads. It's the moment of truth for America's addiction to Middle East oil, and for a vast consumer machine that has plunged the average American into crushing debt. It's the moment of truth for two wars abroad.

But as dire as those things sound, Pres. Obama's inauguration speech, which pointed to these challenges and many more, was greeted with optimism. He has an uncanny sense of the times, and he sensed something promising. People like being called to improve themselves. They welcome the end of self-indulgence, laxity, and irresponsibility. So this isn't 1933 all over again, even though it is true that we must be careful not to fall into fear of fear itself.

This is a turning point for the truth. Like any addict who is lucky enough to get an intervention, the country will be grateful that Obama has intervened, because the end result is healing.

At the same time, I can't help thinking about the noble lie, a concept that goes back to Plato and even farther back to Buddha. The noble lie is a story or legend that helps to keep a community together. After World War II, Charles de Gaulle told a noble lie when he declared that France was a nation that rose up against Hitler. The truth was that the war had seen many acts of collaboration with the Nazis, but de Gaulle knew that it might be fatal for postwar France to split apart over retribution and recrimination.

I think it's time for America's noble lie, and for the same reason. The Bush years were a time of serious betrayal of the truth and degradation of America's ideals. Acts of torture, illegal surveillance, trampled civil rights, the hounding of liberals from the civil service to be replaced by right-wing fundamentalists, callous indifference to the plight of Katrina's victims, and of course the deceptions leading up to the Iraq War, all deserve condemnation. Some deserve prosecution under the law. Outraged citizens and legislators are calling for such prosecutions, up to and including ex-President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

I'm glad Barack Obama is silently resisting those urges. At a turning point, mercy is better than justice, and a call to redemption -- a noble lie -- is better than the stark truth. Almost instantly Obama has begun the work of reversing the damage of the Bush years. Just as importantly, his bracing inaugural address outlined a collective story that we should all accept: the story of a nation that wants to take the idealistic path in order to return to greatness.

It was a call to true values after years of false values -- one could date the falseness back to 1980 when a smiling and hugely popular Ronald Reagan successfully became the front man for the right-wing revolution. Millions of Americans found themselves weeping as Obama took the oath of office, a collective sob of gratitude that the long shadow of reactionary politics, with all its toxic implications, had lifted. If we now give in to retribution. we will be pulling the shadow back down over us. It's time for a noble lie. All civilized societies proclaim the rule of law, but only a few follow the higher law of forgiveness.

Author's Bio: 

Intent.com
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