Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What has five pillars?

Why, President Obama's economic program, according to himself (per his recently concluded speech at Georgetown University). They are:

* new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation
* new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive
* new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries
* new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses
* new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations

What else has five pillars? Islam. They are:

* Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad;
* Establishment of the daily prayers;
* Concern for and almsgiving to the needy;
* Self-purification through fasting; and
* The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.

Get ready, mes amis, for the right-wing conspiracy theorists to revive the "Obama as crypto-Muslim" trope. That's why it's so fascinating that the president chose to wrap his pillars in a Gospel parable from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount:

There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when “…the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house…it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at
home and send more exports abroad.

It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century...
Now, Obama's a pretty learned guy, and considering the baggage he carries on the American landscape thanks to his middle name, he surely knows from where his poetic reference to "five pillars" comes. The only possible explanation for Obama's use of the figure is a deliberate tweaking, as Eric Alterman has suggested is the president's aim with his massive agenda -- a desire to bait his enemies into looking intolerant and stupid. Hence the genius of the use of the parable, which bookends the "pillars" portion of the speech:
But from where we stand, for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America’s future that is far different than our troubled economic past... It is that house upon the rock. Proud, sturdy, and unwavering in the face of the greatest storm.

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