Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Woman Obama Kissed

“There is in the country a great deal of anger about the financial institutions,” Barney Frank told a row of bankers at a House hearing yesterday. Elsewhere in the Capitol, members of Congress were hammering out the stimulus compromise with rancor and recrimination.

But with all the ugly public emotions rising out of the economic crisis, there are signs of something else.

At the President's Fort Myers rally Tuesday, a homeless woman asked for help. His reaction was to kiss her cheek and promise," "We're going to do everything we can to help you."

After Bill Clinton's prattle about feeling our pain and George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism, Obama's instinctive physical reaction recalled what the psychoanalyst-philosopher Erich Fromm in the turbulent 1960s called "The Myth of Care." Amid social discord and rage about Vietnam, the author of "The Art of Loving" and "The Sane Society" kept searching newspapers and TV screens for images of people reaching out, helping and comforting one another.

Obama's small gesture is amplified by days of celebrating the saving of 155 lives on Flight 1549 that went down in Manhattan last month. Last night the pilot told Larry King, "Something about this situation seems to have brought out the best in people the day it happened. It seems to have brought the best in people out since then also."

In our publicity-driven world, the Florida woman is, of course, getting offers of help from countless strangers and Flight 1549 will be sentimentalized in books and movies. But none of that will negate the meaning of those signs of caring and compassion during a dark, angry time.

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