Tag Archives: Politics

Lincoln Inspiring American Heroes

Inspired by President Obama’s admiration of Abraham Lincoln, my daughter and I have been focussing some of our homeschooling efforts on learning about Lincoln’s life and his participation in American history.

This morning we watched “The Real Abraham Lincoln,” which I’d recorded off the National Geographic channel. I highly recommend it. Fascinating and accessible, even for a 6 year old! It helped that we had read a book about him yesterday so she was able to key into facts she recognized, little touchstones along the way.

What struck me today was how this man from humble beginnings made it so far. How he had the courage to face the conflict with the South, not knowing at the outset who might win.

Something I learned today was the context in which he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As one of the commentating professors explained, this historic act occurred at a moment when Lincoln was freed by a dark hour of the war, when failure seemed a likely outcome. At this moment when there wasn’t much more to lose, he decided to make his boldest move and free the slaves. Apparently it was a “now or never” act, he had been waiting for the right moment and realized that, if the momentum of fate was truly on his side, then he would have to move forward and commit himself and the country to the profound change that he’d always wanted to see happen, to repair one of the glaring errors our founding fathers had neglected to fix, namely, the inhuman treatment and status of a large segment of the American population.

The connections with President Obama’s election are so deep that I can feel history happening now even as I watch how it happened back then. A black man finally residing in the White House. The desire to move towards a new unity, a more complete justice, a further validation of the rights of all citizens. A belief in the value and the dream of the United States of America. A willingness to dedicate one’s public and private life to serving one’s country. All these details link the two presidents by more than just the fact that President Obama studies Lincoln’s life and words.

The commentating professor also stated that one of the most important characteristics of Lincoln that led to his great success was believing in himself. After all, he ran for president directly after having lost two bids for the Illinois senate seat. A powerful reminder to us all that if we don’t stand behind our own dreams with our whole heart, then we are certainly doomed to be drowned in the inevitable, occasional failure that happens even to the greatest people who have ever lived.

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Slacker gone hopeful

It really feels odd.  I’m not one to drone endlessly on the same topic, but as the days go by I can’t help but continue to meditate and marvel on the transformation… and figure out how to keep it going.

Growing up I was told I was part of the slacker generation.  We didn’t care about anything.  Apathetic little brats.  At the time I knew that this was a load of crap, but didn’t have the perspective to pinpoint exactly why.

Over the years I have been able to see how it was trained into us: living with the constant fear of nuclear war.  Learning about politics in the wake of Nixon’s criminal activity.  Learning about world affairs so soon after the raw-wound fiasco of Vietnam.  Growing socially aware in the self-absorbed 70’s and materialistic 80’s.  Traditional gender roles being overcome by brave men and women but with nothing healthy put in their place, our only choice to be “supermom-careerwoman-totally independent- I’ll do it all myself-sexy but it shouldn’t matter if I am or not” for the girls and “Fine I’ll let you do it all yourself-see I’m not controlling you but neither am I helping- this is awesome that you have to bring home the bacon AND serve it to me” for the guys.  Hearing about how the earth is being polluted, over-populated, raped and pillaged while everyone just continues about their business refusing to alter their ways to remedy it.  And finally, not because this is all there is but because I can’t think of the rest of it right now, film and literature evolving beyond postmodern nihilistic existentialism, which had already taken “What the hell is the point?” to the most extreme.

But my generation isn’t motivated.  We’re a bunch of lay-abouts.

And which part of this ridiculous mess were we supposed to be inspired to participate in, exactly?

I felt my first wave of political hope when Clinton was voted in, but that faded quickly as he came up against multiple forces that held his administration back from what they had intended to achieve.  Instead of resounding affirmation of gay rights the country got the military policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Etc.

Then eight years of W.  I have never felt like such a slacker as I did in 2004 when he was re-elected.  Honestly, why am I going to get out of bed?  Having kids made it easier to remember why I wanted to live, but also made it more depressing to realize that we were going to have the awful leadership continue and cause more damage to our nation and our nation’s reputation.

I was steeling myself for a McCain win.  To me this would confirm what I’d known all along: the fat cats control everything.  The corporations own not only almost all of the capital, they own our government, they own us.  And worst of all, that people didn’t care a whit about informing themselves and refused to reprimand ignorance.  If regular people had bought the whole “Obama is going to make us SHARE!!!” whining, thus falsely identifying themselves with the super-rich and reaffirming the trickle down theory rubbish that we are content to live off the scraps of the well-off, then I would have figured that all was lost.  I think my cynicism would have reached new depths, and I don’t know how I would have dealt with it.

I wish there were a way to share this feeling with those who are apparently as devastated by this election as I was in 2000 and 2004.  Does it make them feel any better to know that they had their two turns in a row, and, just like on the playground, it’s nice to give someone else a chance on the swing, especially when the last swinger was throwing rocks and creating general chaos?  Doesn’t it make them feel better to see so much of the American population so happy and hopeful, not because we are scared and want to hide behind our leader who will shake a stick at the big scary things in the world, but because we feel inspired to roll up our sleeves and finally get to work under the leadership of someone who isn’t going to be conspiring against our best interests behind our backs with his pals in big oil, Haliburton, etc.?  Does it make them feel any better to realize that this president was actually elected not only by the electoral college but also by a majority of Americans of all flavors who turned out in huge numbers, and this president-elect didn’t even need his governor-brother to help him win a key state?

I keep coming back to Obama’s slogan, “Yes, we can.”  The “we” includes everyone, I believe, no matter who or of what opinion.  It is open-ended.  It doesn’t prescribe a goal or an outcome, or even the method to achieve it, it simply speaks to the needs and desires that we all have, affirming them and encouraging individuals to come together and embark on whatever projects call to their hearts.

Can’t everyone see how long we, as a nation, have had to live without this positive spirit?  Since before I was born, as far as I can tell.  Doesn’t everyone wonder how far we can take it, how many wrongs we might right, how many dreams we might fulfill, how many new ideas we might produce?

The slackers. along with the rest of the population, might emerge from our depressed lethargy and embrace our lives in this world as never before.  

I’m ready.  Let’s do it.  What have we got to lose?

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Welcome…

To the first day of the rest of our lives.

I want so badly to believe in President-elect Obama that it is a bit frightening.  My M.O. is to be cooly cynical, looking always for ulterior motive and reading greed and self-interest into everything that just about everyone says.

But try as I might, I could hear nothing but sincerity and hope in his acceptance speech last night.  I felt like a naive little schoolgirl, enamored by the handsome young principal promising a new school year filled with exciting projects, new library books and better cafeteria food.

It brought me back to my naive excitement the night Bill Clinton was first elected.  I had such high expectations for what he would be able to accomplish.  This time my enthusiasm is definitely tempered by experience, by my instinctual tendency to guard a heart broken too many times.

But I want so badly to believe.  The way he embraced not only his fans, but those who hadn’t voted for him, foreign dignitaries in their palaces and third-world viewers crowded around the tv.  He stood up and spoke for unity in the most powerful way I’ve ever seen.  I may have heard more poetic and profound words spoken by others in the past, but never such amazing words spoken to a global audience, never words addressed to each and every individual in that audience.

I have to say I gained an enormous amount of respect for McCain last night as well.  His speech was truly impressive for the way he too called for us all to come together and support Obama and each other as we move into this new phase of history.

Perhaps soon all my hopes and excitement will be crushed, maybe Obama will end up a conniving, lying politician like all the others, maybe my disillusionment hovers around the next corner, waiting in ambush to reopen old wounds.  But for today, and hopefully for a while to come, and maybe for the next four years, I can feel the amazing energy of this new direction and I want to continue to be inspired to participate in the vital work of reconstructing a society that has strayed so far from justice, stability and the security of a healthy interdependent community.

“Yes, we can!”

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Folly in Polly-ticking

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.
  – Paul Valery

I thought this quote was appropriate for the present climate of election frenzy which threatens to choke the life out of any hope of rationality.  I think my brain is getting a bit mushy from trying to keep up with the verbal gymnastics that is policy debate, which inevitably just dumps me on my head right where I started.

I need to go dig my hands into the dirt, touch something real.

I need to go sit out beneath the moon and just watch her be round.

I need to sit atop a cliff and feel the Pacific ocean pound the hell out of the rocks below.

I want silence, just honest, straightforward nothing, so we can all look around us and remember what the point was.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m just coming off closing statements by Presidential candidates.  It’s enough to drive anyone to drivel.  Or dribble.  Not the basketball kind, the lobotomy kind.

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Pitfalls of Democracy

According to American propaganda, democracy is the cure for the world’s ills.

While I would also rank democracy as among the most valuable developments of humanity, it seems we might want to work out some of the kinks before we thrust it upon everyone else.

With alarming frequency we hear of violence in countries where elections have just been held. The current protest in Kenya centers around the fairness of the elections. A perfectly reasonable concern. Brings to mind our own elections, the 2000 Presidential election in particular being an instance in which the validity of the announced results does not hold the confidence of the constituency. If we, in our “advanced” state of civilization, continue to suffer from hanging-chad-itis, how do we expect countries with a bit less technology to fare?

And speaking of trusting the government, Americans with their Watergate-inspired wariness do not realize the profound level of mistrust that a citizenry can suffer after being tortured, disappeared and/or killed for participation in the political process.

Assuming a fair election, there is another sticky point that we fail to advertise to prospective users of democracy: somebody has to lose… and live with it. There is no problem convincing people who have been silenced and oppressed for decades that a better system would be one in which they have a voice and a choice, namely, democracy. However, there is also the distinct possibility that one’s favorite candidate, law, measure or proposal will be voted down, and you are just going to have to deal with it until the next election.

For us Americans, we are sophisticated enough, we take it in stride. Four more years of W? No problem. What else is on tv?

But imagine how it is for people for whom democracy is still a new and fresh idea: being able to have a say and make decisions that will impact their world. But, oh, too bad, you lose. Maybe next time?

After coming so close to realizing a heartfelt dream, whether it is for freedom of press, economic justice, or perhaps trustworthy, responsible leadership, now they must sit quietly with an unfulfilled hope of change. And without hundreds of satellite channels to distract them.

It may be that all these election-related issues are a better kettle of fish than whatever the citizens were faced with before their imperfect democracy. In any event, I hope we figure out a way to make the brilliant plan of democracy actually functional in the real world.

Meanwhile, do let’s stop ramming it down people’s throats.

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