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November 10, 2008

Obama's to-do list: bring back culture

By Spear's

After eight years of Bush, Obama needs to show that reading is not just done on cereal boxes.

No, this does not mean that I think that America lacks culture: from my time in New York earlier this year I can tell you that it has culture in abundance. But that’s New York, which was never going to let Bush stifle it. The rest of the country, and the example set from the centre, is another matter.

As we have learnt, Barack Obama is a ferocious reader: from Philip Roth to Toni Morrison to Shakespeare. Anyone who has heard his speeches must be convinced of his hyper-literacy. After eight years of Bush, rarely found reading (except to children when the planes hit the World Trade Center), Obama needs to show that reading is not just done on cereal boxes.

This could be part of a general programme rehabilitating the arts, extending outwards from Washington. Instead of making the Kennedy Center Honors the only time politics and the arts interact, why not bring back the era of the Washington literary salon? Staffers mix with creatives, with approval from on high, and the lessons of art (not that it ought to be didactic) permeate back into politics.

President Obama can visit the symphony in Chicago and urge schools to supply instruments to all their pupils; music is well-known as an aid to study and for boosting mental processes. The same goes for theatre: run a competition for the best in school drama and dole out tickets to the community.

If the President engages with the arts, on a (continuing) personal level and reintroducing them into the political discourse, he could restore some dignity and thought to an all-too aggressive and atavistic political culture.

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