Sometimes, especially when Barack Obama has to respond to a question that he wasn’t expecting, I am struck by what seems to be his serious and intelligent mind. But then there are Obama’s scripted moments, which seem self-conscious and posturing, as if he has practiced them in front of a mirror. At these other moments, Obama seems to have gotten lost in the myth of himself, and instead of using language that’s thoughtful and serious, he tends to stitch together catch phrases that have the tone of importance without necessarily making sense.
It was unfortunate that Obama’s first official act as President of the United States was based on one of these self-mythical moments. President Obama issued an official proclamation establishing yesterday as a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation.
The proclamation was issued at around 2:00 PM, which means that Americans had only 10 hours in which to renew and reconcile… and that’s if you don’t count their bedtimes.
The proclamation included the following statement:
“We are in the midst of a season of trial. Our Nation is being tested, and our people know great uncertainty. Yet the story of America is one of renewal in the face of adversity, reconciliation in a time of discord, and we know that there is a purpose for everything under heaven.”
There Obama goes, with his biblical references again. Obama seems to expect Americans to accept his line of thinking just so long as its premises come out of the Bible. Well, as one of those people who doesn’t have Bible-based beliefs, I’m left dumbfounded by the corkscrew logic in this proclamation.
The proclamation is supposed to be one of reconciliation, but then Obama goes proclaiming that there’s a purpose for everything. Doesn’t that means that there’s a purpose for division? How about a purpose for not reconciling?
This one statement, through which Obama attempts to give his proclamation an atmosphere of gravity and wisdom, introduces the stench of nonsense.
What’s the purpose of domestic abuse? What’s the purpose of cannibalism? What’s the purpose of totalitarian dictatorships? What’s the purpose of automobile accidents? How about the peanut butter salmonella outbreak? Cancer? Rabid dogs? Unemployment? Bad comedians? Holes in our socks? Murder? Sleeping in when you’re supposed to be meeting with foreign dignitaries? Toothaches? Ignoring citizens’ constitutional rights? Torture? Spying on law-abiding Americans without search warrants? Arbitrary imprisonment?
How easily we slip from proclamation into policy. The link is all too easy to make, because policy is about choosing a consistent purpose and figuring out how to achieve it, while thwarting opposing purposes. Our civilization has not been built and maintained through accepting the worth of everything, but through the intelligent selection of purposes.
I don’t particularly want a President who believes that there’s a time for inequality, and a time for suspension of freedom, and a time for reckless spending, and a time for starting wars just for the fun of it. There is not a time for everything, and there is not a purpose for everything under heaven.
Barack Obama seems to want us all to just get along, and sit back, and stop disagreeing so much, and be friendly. That would make Obama’s job easier, but it wouldn’t make life better for the rest of us.
In the proclamation, President Obama calls “upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century.” What is this common purpose, though? Most people want to remake the American nation, but they mostly disagree about how to do it. Their purpose is not at all common.
At the beginning of his presidency, George W. Bush declared that he would unite the country. He declared that he would be a President for all Americans.
Declaring reconciliation doesn’t make it happen. Americans need to be given reasons to reconcile, because in spite of what Barack Obama said during his inaugural address, the issues that divide Americans are not “childish”. These divisions are the result of serious differences of purpose, driven by competing needs and philosophies.
Barack Obama seems to have found a coalition of people who can find common purpose, a majority large enough to get elected. However, that coalition ignores the constitutional rights and other interests of other Americans, people who are in minority groups that Barack Obama hasn’t viewed as politically important.
I hear the phrase a lot these days, mostly from people who are contented with their own situation in life, “Can’t we all just agree to disagree?” The literal meaning of this phrase is just more nonsense. After all, the people who use this phrase are disagreeing about disagreeing. What this phrase really means is, “Can’t people disagree, but not actually talk about the content and of their disagreements?”
The answer is no. A democracy depends upon vigorous, open disagreement. Disagreement and division is the American way.
If we disagree, what’s the purpose of reconciliation? It seems that the national mood is to stop paying attention to politics, to feel that change has come, and the story has ended, and the we can all ride off into the sunset together, singing “Yippie-ti-yi-yo”. We ought not to forget, however, that every sunset is followed by a sunrise, and not very long afterwards.