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What Kind of a President Does America Need?

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Lets start with what America does NOT need:

It does not need a President who is deemed (by the media, the pundits, the chattering classes, the owners of capital, and the mavens of the Democratic and Republican party) "realistic," "pragmatic," "knows how government works," "not too partisan," or "savvy." 

All these terms are short hand for this: they will accept the existing contours of power (both economic and political) and work within them to accomplish some limited but valuable reforms. 
           

In the prophetic tradition of Judaism, we think of "being realistic' as the functional equivalent of idolatry. Idolatry is: Accepting  "That Which Is" as the criterion of "That Which Can Be." 

          

To believe in God, on the other hand, is to believe that there is something, a force, a being, a reality, an ineffable "no-Thing" or "nothingness" or Ayin or boundarylessness-Eyn Sof, which makes possible at all times the transformation from "That Which Is" to "That Which Ought to Be."  In fact, in my interpretation of Judaism, whatever that is, that is what is meant by YHVH or what in English called God.

That's why  it has always seemed particularly perverse that some Christians call the God of the Jews "Jehovah," trying to sound out four letters that Jews have always said were unpronounceable. The Hebrew word YHVH is a concept, not a proper name. The root of the concept is HVH, which in Hebrew means approximately what the words "To Be" mean in English-the present tense of the verb to be. And when you put a 'yud' (Y) in front of a root of a verb in Hebrew you are indicating future tense. So the word can't exactly be translated, but it would mean something like "the movement into the future of the Being of the present." In context, it means the transformative force, that which makes possible the movement from what is to what should be, the force that breaks the repetition compulsion (the tendency in human life to pass on to others the pain and cruelty that has been passed on to us) and allows us to transcend our conditioning history and act freely in accord with our God nature to be loving, peaceful and just.

So we need our next president to be filled with the spirit of God in this sense-that s/he refuses to accept that which is as the framework of that which can be.


Instead of being realistic (an idol-worshipper), we need a president who is unashamed to talk and act from a commitment to that which is best for the planet and that which most advances the capacities of the American people and the peoples of the world to be their most loving and generous and kind selves. And we need a president who can communicate and enthuse the American people and the people of the world with that sensibility. 

 
The central unifying idea of the next president's campaign and the major focus of his presidency should be a call for a New Bottom Line in American society. Today, institutions and social practices are judged efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they maximize money and power. That's the Old Bottom Line. Now Here is the NEW BOTTOM LINE for which he should advocate: Institutions (including corporations and governments), social practices, and even person actions should be judged rational, efficient and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity and behavior, kindness and generosity, non-violence and peace, and to the extent that they enhance our capacities to respond to other human beings in a way that honors them as embodiments of the sacred, and enhances our capacities to respond to the earth and the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation. 

To make this kind of a focus for his/her presidency, s/he must talk at a far deeper level than merely repeating or reframing the traditional leftist demands for economic and political rights. While s/he should strongly advocate for a Global Marshall Plan, s/he should also acknowledge that these political and economic changes will only be won on a global level when the social change movements are able to address the spiritual consequences of the triumph of corporate globalization: a society-wide depression and repression of what we can variously call the life-force, eros, God-energy or Spirit.

 
Please note that this is very different from those who talk about spiritual politics but actually mean only this: that it would be politically advantageous and opportune to take the traditional liberal agenda and dress it up with some spiritual or "values" language. So they take the existing liberal/left agenda, with its primary focus on social justice, inclusion of those who have been left out, economic redistribution, and peace-and then they find some Biblical quotes to bolster the case for the pre-existing liberal/progressive agenda. We support all that, but our movement goes much deeper.

I don't believe that our next president can convince the Congress or the country of  the liberal agenda simply by reframing it in spiritual language. For a large section of the American public, the primary source of pain in their lives is not about economic deprivation or non-inclusion, but about the way that the ethos of selfishness and materialism plays out in their personal lives and in the lives of people around them in ways that are destructive and feel terrible. They are wounded and personally despairing about the manipulative, narrowly utilitarian way people treat each other and themselves and the earth. They want a framework of meaning to their lives and to the lives of those around them that speaks of higher meaning to life, shows a path to a life that is not only about maximizing money but about maximizing a meaningful life-in short, they want and need a politics of meaning, and need a meaning-oriented movement that can counter the spiritual depression that surrounds them.

Don't confuse this with those who simply are trying to put some Biblical quotes in front of the same old Democratic Party or liberal agenda.

The spiritual depression and emotional repression that suffuse contemporary life are the near-universal responses to the globalization of a self-congratulatory individualism, obsessive materialism, and consumption-all provided as compensation for the meaninglessness of our present-day culture. The one-dimensional technocratic consciousness, speed-up of work, perception that we have "no time" to do what we really believe in, and our inability to recognize others in terms that go beyond what they can do for us to advance our own agendas as rational maximizers of self-interest-all these combine to create human beings who, if they don't explode in violence (like that which we recently saw at Virginia Tech) or self-destructive alcohol and drug abuse, find themselves in varying degrees of disconnection to their inner selves, their feelings, and their capacities to be loving towards others and responding to the universe with joy.


 
In contrast to this, our next president should encourage the recognition that "there is enough," that we can afford to share, that the material consumption that drives our destruction of the global environment does not actually yield satisfaction. Such a  president should seek a replacement of postmodernist self-alienation with a renewal of Being based on awe, wonder and radical amazement at the mystery of the universe and the mystery of every human being on the planet as a manifestation of the sacred. Our economic, social and political institutions need to be replaced and rethought not only because they are unjust, but because they foster a consciousness that keeps us from connecting to the deepest truths of the universe and make it harder for us to recognize each other as fully free, fully conscious, self-creating, loving beings. In this sense, the globalization of Spirit is the antidote to the globalization of Capital. 

 
Why is it that people who live in the advanced industrial societies of North America, Europe and Japan, the richest societies that history has ever known, believe we "can't afford" to share what we have with the rest of the world so as to eliminate poverty, hunger and homelessness? It is partly because of our collective paranoia that no one will be there for us if we should ever really need their help that leads us to think our only security lies in endless accumulation, to protect our isolated self-interest in face of a deep inner certainty that others can't be counted on. And partly because we have a deep emptiness inside and we have come to believe that only material goods can fill it. We buy things to buy happiness, to compensate ourselves for the alienated work, the disconnection from each other, and the estrangement from our own inner selves that constitute the texture of our daily lives.

 
In our spiritually impoverished world, acquiring ever more things provides an illusion of fulfillment-and a replacement for the deep connection with each other and to the spiritual realities of the universe for which we both hunger and simultaneously deny to ourselves (lest we re-experience the pain and disappointment we had at earlier points in our lives when we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and then failed to receive the loving and recognition we needed but didn't fully get).

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tikkun.org

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
 
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We DO need a President who KNOWS how the current g... by Kimball on Tuesday, Jul 1, 2008 at 9:05:49 PM
for offering/challenging us with a new way of appr... by Cheryl Biren on Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008 at 12:30:17 AM
Unfortunately for us the corporate media propagand... by Dennis Kaiser on Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008 at 3:58:27 PM
OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN,HALLOWED BE THY NAME,... by RICH SHA on Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008 at 5:17:43 PM
There's a term in circulation that closely mat... by Bob Jones on Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008 at 8:05:52 PM

 

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