When the Soviet Union crumbled to dust, it looked for a few years there like this brand of "moral clarity" was going to fade away with it. Finding a new boogeyman became Job One for conservatives in the early '90s; and they quickly seized on the entire Muslim world (all 1.5 billion of them certifiable terrorists, they assured us) as the best possible candidate. Dick Cheney updated the old anti-communist definition for a post-9/11 world when he said:
We cannot deal with terror. [The war on terrorism] will not end in a treaty. There will be no peaceful coexistence, no negotiations, no summit, no joint communique with the terrorists. The struggle can only end with their complete and permanent destruction and in victory for the United States and the cause of freedom.
Whenever you hear a conservative go on about "moral clarity," this is precisely what they're saying. There is always an enemy. They are always out to get us. They will stop at nothing. You cannot coddle them or negotiate with them; you can only survive by annihilating them. And people who see the moral world clearly will not waste time or breath questioning these essential truths.
It's pretty stunning stuff when you read it that way. It really makes you realize that conservatives live in a world of paranoia, xenophobia and seething aggression that most progressives can't even fathom. And their entire moral universe has been twisted to serve their externalized fears; to take that will to project their own demons onto someone else and then destroy them and elevate it as the highest possible moral good.
It's a definition of "morality" that renders the rule of law meaningless but readily justifies genocide and torture as moral acts of self-preservation.
Once we understand what they're really saying, it becomes pretty obvious that one of the first things we're going to need to do in this new era is challenge this horrific definition of "moral clarity" and overwrite it with one of our own. Fortunately, on the same day Bush gave his final speech, attorney general candidate Eric Holder appeared before Congress and gave the country a cooling blast of what real progressive "moral clarity" might look like.
There's only one thing I'd take issue with - and that's the presumption that Obama put a genuine progressive in charge of anything so critical. He's an elegant, well spoken Centrist. That is to say, a Liberal - in the Canadian sense. And possibly, he may have a functional moral compass to go along with the philosophy. Still, don't expect PETA to be in charge of the Department of Agriculture any time soon - or be dumb enough to repeat Bush's mistake of politicizing everything.