Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

After the Nightmare

November 10, 2016


The election results were a nightmare to me. I mean a real nightmare, the kind where you flee shape-shifting monsters and can’t escape. It took me a long time to get to sleep after the result sank in. The sun did come up this morning, and I feel better. Numb, incredulous, but pretty sure I am going to live.

I have no wish to rehearse all the reasons for fear. Better commentators than I have done that ad nauseum. Almost half of America chose to ignore those reasons. We live in a democracy. We honor our constitution. Time to move on.

But how do we do that? How do we behave, going forward?

I don’t want to duplicate what Republicans did to Obama. The quest for power through tearing down and obstruction is an approach I can’t respect. I want our country to prosper, whoever is in power.

I plan to pray for President Trump, persistently. It is not impossible or unknown for someone to become a better person.

Also, I think it’s imperative that we stay politically engaged, because there may be places where constructive engagement can result in positive action, and there may also be places where vigilant, forceful opposition is necessary. For example, maybe we can fix our roads and bridges. For example, I will do anything in my power to ensure that our authorities do not return to the practice of torture.

Finally, the practice of our personal lives will be, I believe, the most potent of all our responses. We all have the opportunity to care for poor people in our communities. We can strengthen our neighborhoods through cooperation in everything from Little League to hiking clubs. We can treat each other with kindness and respect despite our differences. I’m a believer that the political regime ultimately reflects the people’s character, lived out locally. We build from the bottom up. If our communities are rotten, degraded, violent, addicted, angry, that will be reflected in our leadership.

I’ve toyed with the thought that our troubles as a nation—our divisiveness and rancor, particularly—stem from the fact that we have abandoned God. I realize that’s old-fashioned. In the past I’ve tended to scoff at sermons that treated every problem as a symptom of religious failure. Now I’m not quite so sure. There’s no doubt that much of America—the left, in particular—has discarded faith and looks on religion with condescension and suspicion. It became obvious in this election that conservatives also—evangelicals in particular—have abandoned God, else they could not possibly go against everything they say they believe to support a serial liar and bragging adulterer for President. The truth is, I think, a lot of us have abandoned God. Some of us want him to disappear, others to co-opt him as a useful prop in our quest for power.

If things are going to change, it’s useful to review what God says that he wants from us: “to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) That applies under all political regimes, and it is primarily local.


I am thankful for America…

November 7, 2012

… where we don’t have Republican suicide bombers ramming explosive-laden trucks into Democratic campaign offices.

… where  mobs of young Democratic men did not surge into Republican neighborhoods burning houses and churches.

… where Mitt Romney gave a gracious concession speech and pledged to pray for President Obama’s success.

… where President Obama acknowledged the love for America that motivated all sides in the campaign, and praised the Romney family’s lifelong devotion to serving their country.

…. where life goes on the day after the election almost exactly the way it went on the day before the election, only with fewer ads and no robo-calls.

The Details of Romney’s Plans

September 18, 2012

You probably know that Mitt Romney is trying to reinvigorate his campaign. The new strategy is supposedly to project what Romney would do if elected. Instead of talking down the Other Guy he is going to come clean on his Big Plans.

I will bravely predict here and now he will do no such thing. In our current political environment no presidential candidate can afford to talk about Big Plans in a candid or courageous way.

It’s a staple of presidential campaigns that pundits urge candidates to offer sweeping and detailed plans to clean up our problems. In recent days David Brooks and Tom Friedman, two commentators I greatly respect, have expressed great frustration that Obama has offered nothing so grandiose. Brooks wants him to explain how he will lower American debt and reform Medicare, while Friedman wants him to offer a plan to rejuvenate our economy, fight global warming, and rebuild our infrastructure along green lines.

I’m all in on wanting such plans, as these are genuine and deep problems. I know, however (as these pundits surely do too), that no sane American politician would offer such plans. It’s all pain and no gain in our political environment. The details would be seized on, distorted and treated as if they represented a deliberate assault on American virtue.

Don’t believe me? Think of the caliber of debate on Obamacare. Death panels, anyone? Government takeover?

Or consider Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare. It’s been reduced to a single word: “vouchers.”

It might be worthwhile to offer grand plans if they would be met by counter-proposals leading to a legislative process and a bipartisan compromise. That’s simply not going to happen. The last thing Republicans want to do is offer an alternative to Obamacare, and the last thing Democrats want to do is spell out how to reform Medicare. No, wait, the truly last thing either party wants to do is to offer a concrete proposal for dealing with debt and deficits. (No, Ryan hasn’t. Not until he tells us where the cuts will go and which tax deductions will disappear.) Neither party wants to offer such specificity on plans that will surely include pain.

Now, it’s nice to blame the political process, the political parties, and the politicians for this state of affairs. Surely at some point, however, we have to blame ourselves. We the American people–and I think this applies to all of us–have developed an inordinate fondness for dessert without vegetables, and for bumper sticker attacks on the people we disagree with. We punish politicians who spell things out. We prefer to talk in slogans. So for the foreseeable future, we are stuck with muddling through.

An Election, Apparently!

August 22, 2012

I am in Colorado, and–judging by my experience watching the morning news while exercising in my hotel’s workout room–there is going to be a presidential election!

At least half the ads were bashing Obama or bashing Romney. In California, where I live, we don’t have any ads for the election. That’s because our outmoded electoral college system restricts the election to those half a dozen states that are up for grabs. Since California is solidly for Obama, there is no election campaign here. And no ads.

Don’t get me wrong, I could do without the ads. Of the eight or ten different ads I saw, none contained information worth the price of a walnut. (Some were quite obviously misleading.)

I can do without the ads, but I wouldn’t mind a campaign. Or more to the point, I wouldn’t mind a sense that my vote was actually worth something to the candidates. That they were vying for my affections, rather than simply wooing Coloradans and Ohioans and Michiganders and Virginians.

Is there any reason to keep the electoral college? I know the argument that it keeps the small states significant. But really, it doesn’t. What it does is disenfranchise over half the country. It’s gone from an antiquated and useless system to one that is actually undermining our democracy.

The Wealth of Presidents

March 13, 2012

I got this from Chris Blattman’s blog. If you’re interested in Majority World poverty and development, he’s an engaging and very interesting source. Check it out.

The net worth of all 43 U.S. presidents collectively – from Washington to Obama – totals $2.7 billion.

…The net worth of individual African presidents from banditry: Abacha (Nigeria), $5 billion; al-Bashir (Sudan), $7 bn; Babangida (Nigeria), $8 bn; Mobutu (Zaire, now Congo DR), over $10 bn; Mubarak (Egypt), over $40 bn; Khaddafi (Libya), over $60 bn.

According to Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion from their people in the decades since independence


Therapy Through Politics

January 12, 2012

“Obama was elected to lead ‘a rational, postracial, moderate country that is looking for sensible progress,’ a White House official tells Kantor. ‘Except, oops, it’s an enraged, moralistic, harsh, desperate country. It’s a disconnect he can’t bridge.’”

That comes from David Remnick’s New Yorker review of Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas. I thought it captured Obama’s political problems, and ours.

America seems traumatized. And no wonder: 9/11 followed by two wars as endless and incomprehensible as Viet Nam, plus the worst economy since the Great Depression. At times like these, politics requires a Father figure. Roosevelt was that; Reagan was too. We need someone to put our fears into a narrative that makes sense, gives us hope and steels our courage. Obama is calm, which is good, but he is no storyteller. He communicates like a first rate accountant.

That may explain why he so enrages conservatives. Emotional crises call for emotional release, and a leader who violates your gut sense of what needs doing (Balance the budget! Downsize government!) can provoke rage. It’s like a fire is raging and Fluffy is inside and the fireman is telling you in a flatline voice that he understands you are upset but this is not the time to fly off the handle. You want to fly him off the handle.

Liberals are the mirror image. They long to be rallied to the cause of rescuing America, and Obama is looking for thoughtful bipartisan solutions. Send me in, Coach!

I’ll grant you that psychological interpretations of history leave something to be desired. There are, after all, policy matters at stake. Still, I think emotions are a big part of politics, and that this is an especially emotional time.

What’s the answer? Is there a Moses? Do you see one in our Republican candidates? Or do you think Obama may yet find a way to speak to us? Or—do you think we just have to muddle through and hope to feel better in the morning? That’s what I tend to believe.

Who Can We Blame?

July 26, 2011

At the moment, it looks like the US government is going to shoot its economy in the stomach next week. The best we can hope for, it seems, is some kind of face-saving maneuver. The worst? Another recession, or even a depression. It’s hard to see any good coming out of this debt debacle. How did we get here? Who can we blame?

It pains me to say it, but President Obama has to bear responsibility. He waited until the very last moment to propose a way to settle our deficit problems. By taking a cautious “you go first” approach he opened the door to this game of chicken. It’s always risky to take the lead, and nobody can guarantee that you will succeed, but the alternative…. Well, how do you like the alternative?

The Republicans get a heaping share of blame. They invented this game of chicken, thinking they could leverage some kind of deficit-cutting action. But they proved incapable of accepting a compromise, any compromise. As David Brooks wrote a few weeks ago, they aren’t behaving like a normal political party that seeks to govern. They are behaving like a splinter faction that wants to kick the big boys in the shin. They don’t seem to accept that they are the big boys.

Truthfully, though, we the people deserve most of the blame. We have been extremely willing to buy sound bites and applause lines. We have proven allergic to any kind of shared sacrifice.  A good many of us have been willing to believe utter nonsense if it suits our mood.

I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington while watching the HBO series on John Adams. Together they serve as a refresher course on American history. The founding fathers were very aware of how experimental and fragile was the republic they founded. They often wondered whether the nation—both leaders and common people—would prove worthy of the independence they had won. And indeed, by the time Washington was in his second term, the polarization and vituperation and silly conspiratorial thinking had reached dangerous levels. Only Washington’s reputation, and a prosperous economy, and some bold and fortunate leadership (Hamilton’s in particular, establishing a viable economy) kept the country together.

We don’t have anything comparable today—no unimpeachable reputations, no prosperity, no strong leadership. We do have 200 years of success, which can breed confidence. It can also breed over-confidence. We need to get serious about politics. It’s not a game.

What does “serious” mean?

It means listening to other views and seeking common ground.

It means not demonizing those who disagree with you.

It means going deeper in complicated subjects, and rejecting simplistic formulations.

It means seeking solutions to problems like health care and ballooning deficits and illegal immigration, not just declaiming about the failings of others.

It means accepting compromise.

It means accepting blame.

Obama’s Persistence and the Republicans’ Discipline

March 25, 2010

I’m happy health care reform passed, but don’t worry, I’m not going to go into my reasons. I believe that baby has already been thoroughly thrashed about, pro and con.

What interests me now is: what next?

Republicans made an electoral bet that the nation hated reform so much that the elephants could ride “no” to victory. And indeed, all the polling data suggested so.

America remains a 50/50 nation, with the two sides more polarized than ever, but independent voters came down solidly against the health care reform bill.

However, between now and the November elections is a political lifetime. It could be that the Republican furor peaked too soon. I thought Obama came off pretty well in the last month before passage—reasonable, clear, and strong. And I’m pretty sure the sky won’t fall, as the Republicans repeatedly predicted it would—at least, it won’t fall before November.

So we’ll see. If independent voters are really convinced that Obama is CEO of Big Government Takeovers, there will be a big swing toward Republicans, the kind of movement we saw in the Massachusetts Senate race.

But if they’re not solidly convinced of that, and health care doesn’t deteriorate dramatically, and the economy picks up a little, and nothing else goes wrong, it’s likely that the Democrats will see only a modest slide, such as the majority party nearly always experiences.

If the Democrats don’t collapse, we’ll see whether Republican leaders can keep their troops 100% unified in opposition to all things Obama. It’s not a natural state for politicians to refuse to negotiate. Republicans have the forty Senate votes to stop anything. But it’s just as hard for them to keep everybody on the reservation as it was for Obama to keep all his 60 votes in line when he had them.

In the health care battle two character qualities stood out: Obama’s persistence, and the Republicans’ discipline. I think we know now that Obama is not a quitter. He’s going to keep on trying to get things done. Will the Republicans maintain absolute unanimity in the face of it? Persistence vs. discipline. We’ll see.


October 30, 2009

Alyssa Rubin has a good article in today’s NYT on lessons she has learned from six years in Iraq. (here) The message is basically this: In a foreign land we get blinded by wishful thinking, aided by our ignorance. Optimism and hope can easily become hubris. She fleshes this out in some detail.

Her point is that as we ponder America’s role in Afghanistan, we need to be extremely careful not to think too highly of our own opinions. Rather, pay close attention to what is really happening. Whether you are convinced that Obama is dithering and delaying our prosecution of a nation-saving surge, or you believe that whatever we do in the mountains of Afghanistan is bound to fail and we should draw down our troops as soon as possible–don’t be too sure of yourself.

The lesson applies to Obama, of course. Unlike the rest of us, however, he has to decide what to do. God help him to get it right.

What We Resent

October 14, 2009

Every month or two I have lunch with my friend Paul, who leads the editorial page for my local paper. Paul has a good feel for currents of emotion in our community because passsionate people, nuts and non-nuts, call and write the newspaper.

At our last lunch Paul opined that no subject generates more excitement year in and year out than illegal immigration. Right now few are talking about it because a) the economy is so weak Mexicans are staying home and b) no legislation has been proposed for us to fight over. Even so, Paul said, immigration is the fundamental magma of our local political volcanoes. If you want fireworks, mention it.

That surprised me, because we live in a liberal community, and I don’t see many people here affected by immigration. I asked Paul why he thought it caused such heartburn even among people who aren’t directly harmed. He thought it had to do with injustice. People feel strongest and angriest when they perceive that somebody gets something they don’t deserve.

Paul has a point. During the 80s welfare cheats generated much of the same emotion from people who were only slightly and distantly affected by welfare scams. So in the nineties did the perception (on the liberal side) that votes didn’t get counted in Florida. Sure, an election was at stake, but the lasting bitterness came from a belief in the injustice of it.

Perhaps a sense of injustice fueled the vitriolic hatred of both the Clintons and of George W. Bush—the sense that they had somehow skated to their positions on privilege and weren’t held accountable. They got something they didn’t earn! And they weren’t punished for their sins!

It’s probably the same with the outpouring of vituperation after Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize. (I first wrote “won” but realized a passive construction was preferable.) It’s like the teacher gave a gold star to Susie just because she’s pretty. Some people shrug, but others are outraged.

In a funny way I find it encouraging that the deepest feelings are prompted by injustice. A concern for justice is fundamentally noble, whereas the politics of self-interest gets squalid and corrupt in a hurry.

And yet–why does injustice stoke such passion, while justice usually doesn’t? Why can talk show hosts raise blood pressure against welfare cheats but not for helping children who grow up poor through no fault of their own? Why the passion of resentment rather than a passion of love? The human heart is very strange.

The New Republic has an interesting article,0 by Jonathan Chait on Ayn Rand. Rand was a cultish figure who wrote a couple of best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She still inspires devotion among businessmen and conservatives, for example Alan Greenspan. Chait says her biggest contribution was a claim for the moral rightness of capitalism. For her followers capitalism isn’t evaluated by its economic efficiency. It has ascended beyond statistics to a state of moral exaltation. They see anything impeding free enterprise as outrageously immoral. This, Chait explains, leads to rich businessmen expressing outrage that they are subject to taxes, regulation, or impediments of any kind (say, labor unions) not only because these are inconvenient, but because they violate their moral rights. He quotes various business leaders who, during the current economic crisis, expressed resentment for the interference of the government with their businesses. Some had, through their own incompetence plus the free reign of capitalism, almost destroyed the world’s economy, plunged the world into a punishing recession, thrown millions of Americans out of work–and they felt wronged!

Resentment and bitterness are corrosive emotions, often misdirected. Better to have a passion for doing the right. There is a reason why we are told to “love justice,” rather than to hate injustice. Love binds us together.