Think back. Of all the presidential candidates ever to rise on the world stage, few appeared more attuned to our highest spiritual values than Barack Hussein Obama, at least on the surface.
So many acts his first ten months in office appear to bolster that sensibility. Appointing proven peace envoys to trouble spots. Ending misguided efforts to place missiles in Central Europe, publicly deploring, if not quite closing Guantanamo, meeting and amiably greeting potential foes in public forums, renewing dialogues with Iran and North Korea, bolstering the Freedom of Information Act, allowing healthcare clinics to re-open around the world, declaring that human rights of Palestinians must be honored, that a nuke-free Korean peninsula is optimum, that findings of science must be respected, that the world must begin eliminating nukes, acknowledging the reality of global warming and taking sane, if modest, steps to do something about it. He pushed bills to bail out Main Street and your street.
Still, critics point out, aerial drone attacks continue in Pakistan, and the principle if not the act of sending terror suspects to black box prisons through the practice of "special renditions" remains in place. Guantanamo isn't going to be shut down soon.
So, is this peace prize premature? Perhaps. But in a world whose existence has been put at risk by the darkness inside our own hearts, Obama had better be prepared to live up to it.
False prophets led us to the abyss we find ourselves trying to crawl out of, mostly by pointing fingers at alleged shortcomings of others as the source of all our troubles. The result was ill-advised invasions, torture, deregulation, military budgets that grew insanely, politics of personal destruction, waste, corruption, assaults on personal liberties, the Constitution, economic disarray, undermined treaties and a net increase in greenhouse gasses.
To acknowledge we'd lost our way under Cheney-Bush, marching off in every direction with drums pounding, violins skirling and banners flying, is to acknowledge the need we had and still have for salvation. Civilization hangs by a thread. One false move and we risk unimaginable destruction. Business as usual, politics as usual, will not save us. Pandering, blaming others, drawing down dwindling resources, building fierce new weapons and marching off against imagined enemies are luxuries we can no longer afford.
Of all the presidential candidates I'd ever witnessed, candidate Obama's message was the most hopeful so far.
It was about healing. Reaching out. Uniting tribes.
Accused of hatemongering by association with the Rev. Wright, he elevated the conversation. Accused of radicalism by association with William Ayers, he turned the other cheek, refusing to make much of McCain's own radical associations.
Such signs long back prompted many, myself included, to gush: "Please, embrace this sane, rational and decent man."
Looking back across the landscape of his sojourn, Obama's made a history of pouring oil on troubled waters.
As teachers from Jesus to Machiavelli noted, there's wisdom in hugging opponents close by.
A dinner for his biggest opponent, John McCain, on the eve of the inauguration? Unprecdented.
A place in the administration for chief rivals Hillary, Biden and others? Outside the political norm.
Gathering both a fundamentalist minister and a gay bishop into inauguration festivities? Unheard of.
It's undeniable that Obama's made progress in his first nine months in office. Unnecessary new wars, the deliberate cruelty of torture, unbridled greed, destruction of communities, prejudice against gays and immigrants, the urge so prevalent within the human heart to scapegoat and demonize.
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