The most important thing that Barack Obama brings to the presidency is his willingness to reason. He won his presidency not as a black American but as a reasoning American who happens to be black. America needs a change from the reign of "obtruding false rules pranked in reason's garb" to use John Milton's words. Attacking Iraq for an imagined link with 9/11 was daft. Having unaffordable health care is not a reasonable way to run a rich society. Destroying the environment is not smart. Spreading the wealth a bit in a deeply unequal society is not as offensive to reason as it appeared to Joe the noncertified Plumber.
The economic crisis has been caused by doctrinaire economic policies, and the solution calls for remedial actions that are reasoned and seen to be reasoned, to generate confidence. In politics, the alienation of the world is not only because the U.S. has been so unilateral but also because the unilateral choices often have been so dumb.
Reasoning also demands re-examination. Obama has to reassess whether he has got the right balance in policies on trade. On Afghanistan, he must examine how to balance his military toughness with the building of social infrastructure there and finding ways and means of getting Pakistan's energetic and largely secular civil society on his side, not against him. Obama may have to reassess some of his campaign rhetoric while firmly retaining his largehearted reasonableness.
By Amartya Sen
Nobel Prizewinning economist