David Brooks suggests that the moral effects of a recession are generally not good and that we might expect an angry political response from the formerly middle class folks who are losing their homes, not to mention from people in other parts of the world who will suffer substantial setbacks as a result of our current economic upheaval.
He may be onto something, but he seems to have forgotten that the Depression also was the time when our "Greatest Generation" came of age. He is of course correct that we’ve suffered a decline in social capital since then (some of it the product of our easy prosperity, not to mention a culture that elevates "choice" above almost every other consideration). And the admirable sacrifices that characterized that generation were called forth by an existential threat, not by the New Deal.
President-elect Obama likes to conjure visions of Lincoln, but Lincoln’s America also faced an existential threat. And Lincoln is much more subtle and thoughtful than Obama has yet proven himself to be.
On the other hand, Richard Cohen wants Obama to emulate FDR, though he confesses that he has no idea what the basis of his optimism should be. Perhaps there’s a clue in the other book Obama says he’s bringing with him to the White House. (I’ll note also that, whatever he actually believed, FDR was very willing to use religious language in public.)
I’ll leave it at that for now.