Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Obama / Warren

My preliminary thoughts on the choice of Rick Warren for the invocation at Obama’s inauguration are that he [Obama] has made a good choice.  That’s not to say that I am any special fan of Warren’s; I find the entire “megachurch” phenomenon to be a bit undesirable mostly for personal theological reasons (i.e., I don’t like a democratized church).  Nor do I find myself able to subscribe to his positions on homosexuality, but it’s important to remember that they will be the views of *any* evangelical, and are held by many, if not most, Americans over the age of, say, 35.

I am not any more thrilled than anyone else on the left about some of the cabinet picks or some of the conservative policies we’re likely to see from Obama.  But the fact is, we voted for a man who campaigned on the idea of bipartisanship.  Now, I don’t know what most progressives consider to be “bipartisanship,” but apparently some think it means “stacking the new administration with leftists.”  Again, I’m as eager as anyone for every neoconservative bungler in Washington to be booted into the welcoming arms of the Weekly Standard before we get involved in a nuclear conflagration with Iran, Russia, and whoever else feels like joining the “axis of evil.”  But as much as I fear the cowboy policies of the modern right, I value more the idea that dialogue and compromise will give our nation the ethical center it needs.  Yes, I agree with the leftists on many things, but one of my sharpest criticisms of the current administration is its inability to understand any subtlety or any opposing perspective.  

By choosing Warren, Obama has angered the gay rights movement, no question.  But then again, Proposition 8 and the debates showed that, unfortunately, this is not yet the time for equal rights.  That’s not a universal indult or anything, but there’s no sense in which Warren (easily the most popular evangelical alive) can single-handedly deprive gay couples of anything.  So, for reasons entirely unrelated to gay rights, I think that Obama’s choice puts an important new nexus on the map: an alliance of reasonable evangelicals and non-doctrinaire leftists, one which will (hopefully) help the Christian right to stop stigmatizing social justice as some kind of threat, and the left to relax its ardent support for, say, abortion on demand or the ardent prosecution of innocuous 10-commandments tablets.

Thoughts?  A wholly quixotic idea?

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History and its discontents …

I was truly happy at the election results last night.  I think that our nation truly has made history, reached a landmark of tolerance, and rejected much of its racist past.  This may be the most important part of the 2008 election.

Furthermore, I am confident about foreign policy.  No, Barack Obama’s presence will not prevent other countries from acting like jackasses, but whichever way you slice it, America has a new face.  Even the tolerant young people of my generation tend, consciously or subconsciously, to “otherize” non whites in a host of (often offensive) ways, and by declaring with our votes that what we had considered “other” we now consider “us,” we also tell the rest of the world that there is hope for their marginalized status.  And by electing a man who values common ground so deeply, we have a chance to kick out the neoconservative hawks that have driven us into costly, irrelevant wars once and for all.  Hopefully neoconservatism will just go away before 2012; if so, I might remember why I was a conservative for so much of my life (even if I don’t exactly renege my apostasy).

A quick perusal of Facebook will show that I’m a minority voice among my friends.  That is, of course, what a democracy is all about — sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  But honestly, these status updates are killing me; we’re hearing things like:

X is lamenting the death of a Free America

Y is kissing all of his money goodbye

Z is lamenting the 30 billion babies Obama is going to murder

Q’s cells have been liberated from the Strong Force and have flown apart into the galaxy

W is pissed off and moving to Ireland/Italy/Canada (?) / Europe in general (?????)

Honestly.  What?  A couple of things I’d like to say: (1) your opponents have had to live through eight years of a decisively neoconservative president, and four of them were dubiously granted him by the Supreme Court.  Calm down.  It’s someone else’s turn. (2) The loss of your candidate is not the end of democracy.  It is, in fact, an inevitable part OF democracy.  (3) If you object to Obama because he is a liberal, good luck with the rest of the western world.  The United States is dramatically further right than any European country (with the possible exception of Poland).  If it’s social conservatism you’re looking for, may I humbly suggest Qatar?  Forget gay marriage; you won’t even see ladies shamefully exposing their ankles there. (4) You are not going to lose any money!  American leftist fiscal policies do NOT involve “taking everyone’s money” and “giving it to bums.”  It involves a graduated income tax, which we already have; increasing the grade will mean — considering that you are all young and probably middle class — that you pay LESS.  Okay?  Your savings is not going to be raided for the Soviet Common Larder.  Honestly, get over these puerile equivalencies between Stalinism and Nancy Pelosi.

Apart from these rather silly accusations, I’m completely aware of good reasons to oppose Barack Obama.  Nothing is certain in a democracy; I cast a vote for Bush in 2004 and wish now that I hadn’t.  I hope that won’t be true this year.  But I hope that the country will set aside its election-season divisions, just a little, and work toward a better reputation and a more just society that leaves nobody out in the cold, either suffering without insurance or dead in a ditch in the Middle East.  And I hope that everyone realizes how much more powerful grassroots activity is than the executive branch; so get out there and work for what you believe!

Joe Biden matters.

Apparently a record number of people watched the vice-presidential debates on Thursday, and I’m assuming most of them wanted to see if Sarah Palin would make it through alive (which of course she did).  Joe Biden, the democratic nominee, was somewhat lost in all the attention given to his opponent.

However, I think he’s quite important – and not only because surely anyone watching the debate who does not feel that Biden would make the more natural transition to the presidency should something happen to the candidates must have an ulterior motive – but because of his rousing answer to the question of whether, as Dick Cheney believes, the vice-president can act as “part of the legislative branch.”  Now, Palin said that she and McCain see a lot of “flexibility” inherent in the office, which amounted more or less to a “yes, we agree with Cheney.”  Biden, on the other hand, completely denounced the idea as flagrantly unconstitutional and an attempt to consolidate the “unitary executive” position by the Bush administration.

See what he’s doing?  He is literally claiming less power for his own position than either his opponent or the incumbent veep.  Not only is this rare, but it provides the strong distinction from the previous administration, which I think almost all of us would agree that we want.  Biden is important because he understands the government – not just as a Beltway insider, but as in “he is actually educated on the division of power in this country.”  And that’s an immensely good thing, if you ask me!

And on a somewhat tangential note, what is all this business bringing up Bill Ayers again?  The loss of Michigan seems to have sent the GOP into a tailspin of negativity …

I know, I’m terrible/wonderful.

Terrible, because I don’t update.  Wonderful, for you, because you get a relief from being harassed about reading my writing.  Nobody likes to be made subject to self-congratulation!  But alas, your brief respite is quite over.

I’m at the PDX airport, staring out the window at the last distant ridge I’ll see until Christmas.  Speaking of Portland, would you like to know how God punishes His children when they complain to much about the weather He divinely permits?  By specially arranging for your supposed “relief vacation” site to experience a freak heat-wave and actually climb to about 10 degrees higher than the city you just left.  So watch it.  The thing is to shut up and learn something from your discomfort.  Since I haven’t learned that trick yet, the discomfort is rising.

And sue me (Suomi?) for incorrigibility if you will, but I’m thinking Finland for my next break.  Anyone?  While we still have polar ice caps?  :p  (Yes, I forced a bilingual pun into this paragraph.  Yes, I am a massive dork).

If anyone out there is not so riddled with ennui as to be still following the election, what do you think?  I’m starting to have trouble distinguishing between the two candidates, which honestly makes choosing less consequential AND less exciting at the same time.  It made sense for Barack and Hillary to have the same substance with different accidents … but Barack and John?  Weird.  Guys, the American public might actaully respond to a little distinctiveness, a little opinion.  To me, these candidates are like a guy trying to make his date pick her own surprise Valentine’s day venue.  Somehow he thinks the deferentiality will make her happy, but in fact it’s stupid, tactless, and spineless.  Cowboy up and pick the damn restaurant!

Overall, it just reinforces something that I’ve been realizing lately, to my surprise and horror: Bush’s ratings may be free-falling into the Abyss, but his doctrine is going to be the rule for a long time to come.  I want to cite the popularity of John McCain, whose chanting “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” should be proof enough that his foreign policy is at least as bad as that of the Bush Administration.  And then the absolute spinelessness of the Democrats in Congress, whose proceedings begin to resemble a BDSM encounter without a safe-word.

Activist courts a menace?  They may be our only hope on the human rights plane.  Boumidene is pretty much the only good human rights news I’ve heard in the last seven years.

Now, in better news, I’m about to begin teaching orientation tomorrow.  Not that orientation is, per se, very exciting.  But teaching rather is, I think.  So yes.  Any of you who are teachers and have tips, send them my way!

Okay, it’s just about time to board the plane … time to be squished into 11-inch seats for the next five hours!

(untitled #168)

Yes, I just can’t think of anything to call this post.  I wonder if this is true of the many abstract artists whose work gets titles like Contrast #231, and there literally are 230 other Contrast paintings beforehand.  I can’t quite get behind that; why not just call it “Dypsomaniac in a Confessional Booth” or “Trophy-Belt, Strung with Invertebrates”?  Hmm.

Okay, question du jour: are gas prices really going down, or did I have a minor stroke induced by Waco drivers?  My news reading has been a little less pervasive due to the damned lie about my apartment having internet (it doesn’t), but I thought this would make a headline.  I guess it’s not BAD enough.  And on the topic of petrol, how many of you honestly think we should be going to all lengths to reduce prices at the pump?  I’m speaking as a fairly frequent driver here, so I’m not just hectoring from the window of a Portland lightrail car.  I’m serious.  If oil companies see a decrease in demand and have to invest in alternatives to be profitable, not just nice, might that not be better for us all, if we take the long view?

I’ve also begun to think, in the past couple of weeks, that the U.S. must be an incredibly conservative nation.  It boggles my mind how many conservative analysts think of America as some kind of post-Christian wasteland of leftist atheism.  Notice that both candidates have moved right since the general election race began?  That’s right.  A centrist, maverick Republican vs. a fairly liberal Democrat with a talent for cross-partisan work would seem like the ideal face-off after the hardline right-wing Bush administration, right?  But instead, McCain has moved closer and closer to Bush, retaining a token belief in global warming as a distinguishing feature, while Obama has thrown distinctive beliefs over the bulwarks like water from a sinking lifeboat in a hasty attempt to seem like a center-right Democrat.  I find this all very disappointing, not because I want the country to be leftist instead of conservative, but because I think we desperately need balance to keep a check on the torture, spy, and invade view of security that is currently so pervasive in our government … is it seriously just the hard left, and me, who wants something truly different, saner, and more humane?

As said by the immortal someecards.com, “the X-Files were a lot funnier when the government wasn’t actually spying on us.”

Dear U.S. of A …

Well, it’s your birthday again, the big 232.  Sorry I didn’t write earlier; I was at work.  Yeah, on the Fourth.  Nope, no extra holiday pay.  It kinda sucks.  

Anyway, I know how you worry all the time, so I’ll just say it right off: YES, I still love you.  Yes, I’ve not been the best guy — we’ve already been over the times I’ve said some mean things about you in front of my friends, the fling with Italy, a couple of one-night stands with Canada.  I’m not really sorry; after all, you’re getting awfully fat, and there’s a lot you could learn from Italy and Canada (and a lot they could learn from you – let’s be fair here).  But we’ve been over all of this. 

On the bright side, America, you do look amazing for your age, and listen, you’ve had the same government for all these centuries.  That’s more than we can say for just about anybody out there, friend or foe.  Your people are still freer than just about anybody, especially in the speech department, as the recent hate-speech trial of Mark Steyn has shown us (come on, Canada).  We’ll have to just overlook those couple of citizens (and a friendly software guy visiting from Canada) who happened to have the same names as terrorists and got stashed in secret prisons for a couple years.  Let’s face it, they aren’t typical.  But how many times do I have to tell you, just because someone’s named “Mohammad” or “Hussein” doesn’t mean he’s an Islamofascist Axis of Evil Mujahedeen?  Just like you keep saying everyone named “Britney” is a ditz.  You can’t say stuff like that, and I don’t care how many airheaded Britneys you know.  Got it?

You mentioned me giving you the “silent treatment” in your last letter, but I’m not going to apologize for that either.  I think I should’ve done it more, especially four years ago when you served up one of the worst electoral Catch-22s ever.  I still can’t believe I took the path of least resistance and voted for Bush.  Look where that’s gotten us.  Listen, I don’t want to have to give you the silent treatment again.  I liked Barack Hussein Obama quite a bit.  Is it you who’s forcing him to waffle on all his distinctives, or is that his own damn idea?  

Listen, 232 is old enough to hear a little tough love.  I don’t mean to be cruel.  I really only have two things to advise you on.  Number one: don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little.  Yeah, we might need to drill a little for some offshore oil, but seriously, we can get free of our addiction to Hummers and smoldering heaps of coal.  We can give tax breaks to green jobs, and to working people who need them most because their wages never keep up with these prices.  We don’t have to react the *exact* same way to every rogue state.  Sanctions, saber-rattling.  Saber-rattling, sanctions.  Maybe we could give a little more money to artists and universities and things that can help make everybody’s lives better, and a little less to corporate tax-breaks and all that supply-side hogwash.  Maybe we could think about offering paid maternity leave to all women, and health insurance to all children, kind of like every other G8 country, and, oh, you know, Pakistan.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But think about it.  If Norway beat us to the idea by a couple decades, it can’t be that horrendously difficult.

Here’s the second thing: please try to think way back to when you were little, and these States were just a huge crazy experiment, a kind of strange new blend of an Enlightenment utopia and the New Jerusalem, mixed in with a huge dose of common sense.  That’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating tonight, right?  Even if all the rednecks with the fireworks never read the Declaration of Independence, it’s still the point.  So think way back and tell me: what did patriotism mean back then?  Did it mean fighting in a war or having the biggest army?  Saying certain words and waving certain symbols?  (See this very thought-provoking article in Slate).  Or was it the idea of freedom from tyranny?  From things like taxes we have no say over, like getting soldiers billeted in our houses without compensation, like getting tangled up in French-and-Indian Wars that have nothing to do with us?  Wasn’t it something to do with a just government with checks and balances?  Weren’t you guys really terrified of the president, even forbidding us to call him (or her) “Your Excellency” because of that whole imperial tendency?  The whole idea of having a place where you can speak out and not have to worry about getting put on a “list” or having your mail opened or getting “disappeared” in the middle of the night by goons?  

The people you’ve put in charge of you for the past half-century, for the most part, think that patriotism is about having the biggest army, kicking some ass overseas, and storming hills.  Now, we’ve stormed some impressive hills in our history when we had to to do things like, oh, save the world from fascism.  But that’s what we have to do, not what we’re all about.  What we’re about is freedom: freedom to speak, assemble, bear arms, read, make love, live, pursue happiness.  Guantanamo and the Patriot Act notwithstanding, you’re doing a great job of that.  Just don’t let the other guys – the Machiavellians who want us to be all about threats and guns and torture and whatever else is “necessary” – win out, okay?  At least promise me that, and I don’t care if it’s the Republicans or the Democrats who win (see me sometime after work – I’ve got some great ideas for third or fourth parties).

And just in case you think I’m being a little harsh, listen: I’ll always love you to death.  I’m telling you this because of that, not for any other reason.  Hey, finish your cake.  You can work it off tomorrow riding your bike somewhere.  Hey, did I mention these gas prices are killing us?

Happy birthday!

Love,

Robert

Excellent article on Iran (and some incidentals).

I cannot recommend this article highly enough.  Just the thought of our soldiers having to go into Iran the way they went into Iraq (except Iran is larger and more powerful) has been making me feel sick for a long time, and this article (written by a real Persian who has served as translator to several Iranian presidents) strikes me as a solid, thorough survey of the issue that is completely opposed to war.  Also a nice, oblique “thumbs up” to Obama’s willingness to engage in talks with these regimes, which I had a hunch was a good idea but this guy really gives some geo-political reasons and precedents for why it would be a good idea.  And perhaps best of all, a full deflation of the idea that anything besides the current Republican battle frenzy is “appeasement” (again, I knew this was ridiculous but Majd puts it well and concisely).

In other news, I was back to the Deli again after a bizarre four-day weekend.  I was actually impressed with the new manager, and being impressed with the Deli is not a common occurrence for me, I assure you.  I mean, my first manager was fairly effective but barely literate, writing down anguished commands like “FLUFF CHESE’S,” “ONLY PS MEATS GOSE IN HERE,” or “DOT CHUBS DAILY DOT DOT DOT.”  She had a photograph of Duane “The Rock” Johnson thumbtacked to the bulletin board in the back room with a note reading THIS PICTURE WAS GIVING TO ME.  DO NOT TAKE DOWN.  I’ve wondered, from time to time, exactly what it had been giving to her, and when and why it stopped.  The second manager, a sweet and personable lady, was probably a humanities major at some time, judging by her utter lack of administrative skills.  I feel her pain.  She’s managing a Starbucks somewhere now, which is good, because she used to spend a lot of time drawing the Starbucks chalk advertisement signs (quite aesthetically, I must say) when she was supposed to be, I guess, ordering chicken (we were always out).

But now, under the current regime, we seem to be enjoying a Pax Meyera the likes of which I’ve never known before.  Things are stocked up.  Broken things are sometimes replaced.  Our manager wants us to work out our duties among ourselves at night instead of relying on the confusing, often hidden, often illiterate, “tour sheet” (no more “YOU!  Why didn’t YOU chisel the blood off this drain flume?  It was ON the TOUR SHEET!” business).

And and and.  Salman Rushdie’s new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, is magnificent so far.  I bet the luminous Padma Lakshmi would have stayed with him if she had read this book (probably a lie: no doubt the man is a total pain to live with, and probably the research he did on this book made it even more so  And she’s like six inches taller than him.  Poor guy).  Anyway, let’s just say that my tendency toward hero-worship is welling up once again, and the absence I’ve felt from him since Senior Novel days has only, as the adage says, made the literary heart grow fonder.  Go buy it.  Now.