Saturday, December 12, 2009

Strong Feelings!

Obama's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize was one of the best speeches I've ever heard, not so much for the delivery as the content. Obama described the world as it is and the world most of us would like it to be. Unfortunately, war must be the last resort when evil (is there a better word?) refuses to back down, and the world must deal with incipient evil before it gains enough strength to do massive harm. At the same time, it's critical to maintain idealism and strive to accomplish tasks that elevate humanity or safeguard the world. In addition to speaking in philosophical generalities, the president touched on many real problems and described practical ways for addressing them.

Obama's speech was applauded by many on both sides of America's political divide, but this moment of near-unanimity was only momentary. The unbridled competition and angst that characterizes our political discourse continues unabated, thereby itself becoming the subject of debate rather than the underlying problems that politicians are supposed to be addressing.

Strong feelings are a necessary component in the process of making progress. That "fire in the gut" provides the determination to overcome the inertia of the status quo. But, too often in today's America, the strong feelings are aimed at personalites rather than issues. For example, yesterday I was disappointed in the reaction several of my friends had to Obama's speech. They were unable to discuss its content because they were totally focused on their dislike for the man. We need to get past this simple pettiness which I believe our media has caused to flourish.

Is it possible to begin channelling our political objectives in a more positive way? Yes. "Leadership" is the answer. Only if top political figures on both sides of the aisle begin challenging the hyperbole and character assassination practiced by their own side will temperatures begin to cool down and an environment for resolving differences emerge. Sadly, I'm not optimistic about the chances for this change of attitude. Perhaps the stresses created by America's many intractable problems are at the root of the unending animosity. If so, God help us! But God will not do this; it's still up to us.


Sonja's Mom said...

You are absolutely right. This has been the history of politics in America from the beginning and I fear it will always be so. Common ground is very hard to find when everyone is determined to have their own way.

Dave K said...

I'm curious as to when you would consider the decision to go to war qualified as a "last resort." Tragically, justifying violence as a last resort usually results in using violence often and early - even in situations where it is obviously not a good choice....

In this case, I cannot see how Obama has done much to bring an end to war in Iraq or Afghanistan - and he has certainly not seen violence as a last resort. (In all fairness, I don't think he ever claimed that he did. He campaigned on increased troops to Afghanistan and increased military budgets, etc.)

If it's leadership we are looking for, I think we need to create momentum and leadership that can deal with "incipient evil" without tempting OURSELVES to further evil. If any nation or group needs caution about using "strength to do massive harm," it is the USA.

And I mean that in the best way possible. The USA has devoted huge resources to military spending. We know we are the most powerful nation around. We have some traditions and idealism to help restrain us - but it is way too easy to talk ourselves into why we are justified in using our power (and resources) in violent ways. And, with all the rhetoric of terror and violence, it is easier and easier to fail to see our options or the consequences of our actions.

Why is it so heretical, for example, to consider cutting the military budget in half for the creation of an equally well-funded Department of Peace that could focus on building social capital and peacebuilding skills?

For me, Obama's speech was another example of pulling the wool over our eyes.... Obama may talk about Ghandi and MLK, but he hasn't walked 10 feet in their shoes, let alone a mile.... :-/