I have with me Chicago-based, award-winning, syndicated columnist, Bob Koehler. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Bob. We're nearing the one-year anniversary of Obama's presidency. He was swept into office on an almost unprecedented wave of hope and optimism for meaningful change in our country's direction. Almost one year in, what's your take? Was the ballyhooed call for change just campaign hype or is it too early to say?
My feeling about Obama is that he's probably the best we can do right now, which is to say, I see faint rays of a positive moral force emanating from his words and actions, but the central thrust of his presidency has been in service to the military-industrial status quo he inherited. He's half, or maybe I mean three-quarters, or seven-eighths, Bush-Cheney-Clinton-Reagan, and one-eighth Gandhi-King-Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
That, as I say, is the best we can do, painful as this is for me to accept. The King-Gandhi facet of Obama manifests in the ideals he so eloquently expresses, e.g., in his recent Nobel acceptance speech, when he quotes King: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." He goes on to say: "As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King."
This is sheer war propaganda, justifying whatever is happening at the moment, and Obama has proven himself fully capable of uttering such propaganda, of representing the status quo of war. I can't say I expected too much more from him than this, but maybe I expected a little more. I have seen little in the way of change from him in terms of plans of action. For that reason, the only support I can give him is deep and passionate criticism; he needs to do better. The politics of peace still has no traction. His advisors are mostly centrist war advocates. Obama, to bring back an image from ML King, represents a bend in the arc ... that arc of the universe that bends toward justice ... but, from our vantage point at the end of 2009, this bend is almost invisible.
A friend I met recently for lunch said, "It's been a year already. Time to stop blaming Bush for everything." Is Obama doing the best he can given the cards he's been dealt? Or did Bush make such a mess that no one could get us out of it?
Obama is dealing with -- placating, I should say -- those same entrenched corporate forces. We're watching it in the health care sellout going on right now in front of our noses. Whatever Obama's ideals or values or "real" beliefs are, he's going Clinton on us. It's very discouraging.
So, what should those of us disturbed by these trends, or the continuation of these trends, be doing about it?
Well-l-l-l-l (to quote Reagan), I think there are hundreds or thousands of possible answers to that question. There's the usual routes, call your rep, call the White House, write letters to the editor, march, talk to your neighbor, etc. Spreading awareness, joining forces, especially as times get tougher for so many people, are all part of it. But there's an ad hoc reactiveness to this kind of activity and that's not really enough. My belief is that we have to find a way to become part of true and lasting, holistic, compassionate change.
There are many great causes to be a part of, and in some way all of them are linked -- environmental concerns, universal health care, stopping the wars and building a world without war, funding and transforming education, standing for social justice and dismantling the prison-industrial complex. All these great issues vibrate and resonate from core values of a changed world, a world that has at last set its course toward lasting peace. Obama tapped that core resonance. But he's done with it now, or so it seems. But we have to continue to feel the vibration through involvement in ... something. Each of us has to find it for ourselves.
So, we're back that bottom-up "We are the change we've been waiting for." If you had to come down on one side or another, are you feeling more pessimistic or cautiously optimistic about our national ability to rebound from this crisis of epic proportions?
I'm subject to pessimism, of course, but I always think of it as a personal failing or shortcoming, a temporary blindness to the long view of things. We may or may not "rebound" from this crisis -- that is to say, find our way back to a sort of middle-class comfortableness relatively free of anxiety -- but what we will do is slowly continue to be transformed by it.
Crisis, we have to keep reminding ourselves, is opportunity. So what are the opportunities in the current crisis, and indeed what are the parameters of this crisis? Is it only economic? Is it possible to find our way beyond the economic crisis into deeper root causes? We still haven't dealt with the crisis of 9/11. Why in God's name did such a thing happen? Was the war on terror that followed it a rational response? Of course not. It was, and still is, a horrific aggravation of the very factors that led to 9/11. If we are responding half-cocked and irrationally, like serial killers, to our crises, this is a signal that a deeper instability or psychosis is feeding the crisis.
"Be the change you want to see in the world," as Gandhi said, is a great idea that could simply flatten and harden into a cliche. We will not "be the change" without personal struggle, pain and discovery. We have to use our pain to drive us deeper into the big questions. What's really going on? Why is this happening? There are no pre-fab answers here. No one really knows. Stephen Batchelor, one of my favorite Buddhist writers, says: "Because death alone is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what should we do?"
This is the existential uncertainty we all must live with. The economic crisis that besets us is a crisis of interrupted distraction from this question. As things get tougher for us individually, and for us as a nation, we are less able to avoid thinking about the precarious realities of life. So as we face them, we find deeper answers to the questions you're asking, Joan. And as we find those deeper answers, we look around and see that they are similar to the answers others are finding. This seems to be the process I'm going through, at any rate. And I reach out and connect to people in new ways. And this connecting is the infrastructure of peace.
Thanks for talking with me, Bob. Here's to a better year in 2010 full of personal, individual as well as collective growth and movement towards real change.
Amen, Joan. 2010's gonna rock!!
From your lips to God's ear!