The era of self-doubt is over.
The president proclaimed this historic moment in a speech last week to the graduating class at West Point. As a footnote to the times, he added that we also have stopped looking at our warts.
Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I have been waiting all weekend for a sense of relief to flood through my weary veins. After all, I can now say bye-bye to the birdie of self-doubt and so long to the warts of worry.
But to be perfectly frank, it isn't working out. I find myself worrying about people who do not worry, and having acute doubts about those who have no self-doubt.
It's not that I'm surprised by the president's announcement. He is not a man plagued by introspection. In many ways, his charm, his sense of ease in the world, appear to come from a remarkable lack of inner conflict.
I am not sure how people get to his age without experiencing turmoil, but there is something reassuring about his manner. He has the capacity to say even the most frightening things in the calmest way.
At West Point, for example, he injected gallons of personal warmth into Cold War words. The mix always seems a rather pleasant lukewarm. At other times he reminds me of the old poster: if you are keeping your head while all about you are losing theirs, maybe you don't realize the seriousness of the situation.
It's not that I totally disagree with the president. Excessive self-doubt, the inner dialogue that criticizes and judges every possible action, can be paralyzing. It can make any person or any country impotent and depressed.
But there is a whole lot or room between Hamlet and Haig.
Reagan told the cadets that he had lived through three wars. He knows, then, that there is not one more sure of his right, his purpose, his patriotism than the aggressor. He must know that the human race has gotten into a lot more trouble because of certainty than uncertainty.
Even the excesses of 1960s -- that era Reagan still looks back on which distaste -- were not brought on by wallowing self-doubters, but by people of utter, even blind, self-confidence. As for the "Vietnam syndrome" Reagan described the cause was our initial arrogance, not our belated anxiety.
Today, of course, doubt is unpopular at home as well as abroad. The re-emergence of authoritarian religion, politics and pseudo-science is a kind of personal testimony to the difficulty and distress that comes with ambiguity, contradictions, complexity.
It is much easier to believe than to discover, easier to take leaps of faith than make excavations into truth, easier to be told than to choose.
With relief, some people give up the quest to understand, to criticize, to figure out what is right and wrong. If you do not believe that, think about how easily we rationalize injustice.
So I don't share the president's low opinion of self-doubt, because it ultimately is the best goad to creativity.
In one of Rollo May's smaller books, "The Courage to Create," he explored the relationship between doubt and creativity. Utter conviction, he wrote, "blocks off the user for learning new truth. . . . "
The most creative people neither ignore doubt nor are paralyzed by it. They explore it, admit it and act despite it. As May wrote, "Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of it.
"It is infinitely safer to know that the man at the top has his doubts, as you and I have ours, yet has the courage to move ahead in spite of these doubts."
In his speech, Reagan was talking about patriotism. "We've stopped looking at our warts and rediscovered how much there is to love in this blessed land." He described a choice: either we look or we love, either we criticize or we praise.
But I don't accept these old "America: love it or leave it" choices. Reagan was right, "There is a . . . hunger on the part of the people to once again be proud of America, all that it is and all that it can be."
The hunger comes from self-doubt, from wart-worrying. It can be nourished with change. But the notion that it can be fed with denial, satisfied with rhetoric about our perfection is . . . doubtful