Some Thoughts on Obama-mania
Behind the Hatred is . . . Racism.
It’s been a crazy world in politics this fall, not to mention all the other crazy things (and people) in the news for other reasons. So, amid all the catcalls over so-called ‘Obama-care,’ the government shutdown, threats to default and the horrendous rollout of the “Affordable Care” website, I thought this might be a good time to talk a little sense for a change and weigh in on the bigger picture that’s confronting our nation.
Sure, people are upset over the economy and the (falsely) assumed rising national debt, as well as a U.S. Congress that appears unable to vote in favor of the sun rising—let alone anything that might actually move our country forward and achieve something that benefits everyone.
My ‘take’ on all this isn’t all wise and all knowing by any means, but I do think what a few others (and I) have thought and said is true. That, behind most of the political and social turmoil these past five years is that old fiend of Racism.
How else to account for people claiming that Barack Obama isn’t really an American and isn’t a legitimate president, asserting that he was born in Kenya (that’s not a city in Hawaii, incidentally), that he’s Muslim with a secret wish to impose Sharia law on everyone, or a socialist and a communist?
Three Observations on Obama's methods
There are always some deranged folk out there who will believe anything (remember those who insisted the 1969 moon landing was actually ‘staged’ in Hollywood?) But big money from a few billionaires has fueled bigots and radical organizations on the right, empowering them to command the airwaves with fabricated stories and outright lies that lead lots of other people astray—or worse, confirming those persons’ own bizarre and psychotic fears and leading in turn to violent acts.
At the center of this firestorm of prejudice and vitriol is our U.S. President, Barack Obama. Now, I don’t know him, and I’ve never met him (though that would be nice). But I do think I understand him, and having watched how he’s coped with such a barrage of hatred and malevolence for the past five years, I want to offer three observations on his methods that could instruct the rest of us (all those who are sane-minded and truly want what’s best for this country) on how to behave.
President Obama is principled
First, President Obama is principled. He has a clear set of values that guides his every word, action and decision. Let me be more specific. My wife says one of the most profoundly influential courses she had in college used as a textual resource the ethics of rhetoric by Richard Weaver. This small (232 page paperback) book is full of solid explication regarding how people speak and what makes for the most effective kind of talking and decision-making.
Weaver states there are three basic ways in which people defend their positions. Some argue from circumstance, [#1] saying the current situation dictated their decision: “What else could I do?” Others argue from consequence, [#2] making decisions based on what might or will happen: “If I do this, then . . .“ A third choice, however (the most solid and sustainable one) is to argue from definition [#3]: “Slavery by its very nature is wrong.” [e.g. Martin Luther argued from definition when he said, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.”]
Our President consistently argues from definition, as recently as yesterday for instance (October 21, 2013) when he spoke in the Rose Garden about the horrible failure of the new health care website thus far: “We can’t sugarcoat this,” he said. He didn’t make excuses, or blame others, or weasel out of an honest admission that there are big problems in order to escape blame. He just said in effect and in so many words, ‘it isn’t working and we’re going to fix it.’
President Obama is persistent
Second, President Obama is persistent. No matter how rocky things get, no matter how much criticism is heaped on his administration, no matter how obstructionist Congress acts, our President simply keeps pushing for something good to happen. Often it’s by executive action, at other times by empowering agencies and cabinet officials to act, and always speaking to us as a nation—calling us to a higher sense of purpose and asking for our input and help.
Others have charged that President Obama is too cool, too calm and too impassive to be effective. But there’s another way to read that temperament: as focused, unflappable, and determined to get something done that will benefit the country and all its citizens.
President Obama is presuppositional
Third, President Obama is presuppositional. That is, his language always finds the kernel of truth or potential good in every person and situation, and calls forth the best from us and the present situation. He isn’t the first or only person to use phrases like “I know you care about . . .” or “We’re not that kind of country,” or “This is what needs to be done.” But he’s a master at such language, and at practicing what he preaches. A psychotherapist (Frank Morris) and I wrote a book once about using this kind of positive language that draws out the best in each person.
I don’t know what source to credit for President Obama’s facility in being presuppositional, but he’s got it down pat. Hence his first campaign theme: “Yes, we can!” So next time our President speaks on television, listen carefully to how he phrases what he says. Don’t bother analyzing the content to see if you agree with him or not. Just listen to how he says what he says, and notice the positive and definitional tone of his words.
A Lesson from Africa
One last comment, and this is a risky one. I said at the beginning of this “hub” that Prejudice with a capital ‘P’ is at the heart of much of the turmoil over Barack Obama being president. I want to end with a hopeful insight that comes out of a study trip I made back in 1981 to West and East Africa (yes, I’ve been in Kenya—and lots of other places on that continent).
Part of our group visited a college in Liberia one day, and as we were in the office of the school’s president to learn about higher education in that country, suddenly members of the local police came into the building, entered the office across the hall and took away the college treasurer—under arrest!
When we asked about that, the head of the school explained that he’d been suspected of embezzling school funds and handing out money to friends and relatives. That was shocking enough, but what he said next really stuck with me. The president explained that, due to the poverty level* at that time, if a person got a job that paid well—either in business or in government—there was an expectation that he/she would share that new-found wealth with family members (and ‘family’ in that culture meant not only blood relatives, but also friends and neighbors and acquaintances, even strangers who suddenly appeared on the doorstep of the lucky individual—not unlike the experience of most lottery winners, I suspect!)
Remembering that, I asked myself: ‘What if Barack Obama were of that sort? How angry and disgusted would be all be then? That would be a very different situation, as opposed to the nonsensical and malicious charges being made by those who fear that ‘whites in our society are being disenfranchised by Blacks,’ so much so that—as some of them say, we “have to take our country back.”
A former mayor of Detroit is now in prison for doing just what that college treasurer in Liberia was arrested for doing, along with additional charges of extortion, bribery, racketeering and tax crimes.
Contrast that behavior now with that of President Obama’s. In my opinion, we’re fortunate to have someone in the Oval Office as principled and persistent and presuppositional as he is.
A final comment
One final aside is worth mentioning. My wife pointed out to me that being Black should have nothing to do with our evaluation of how someone performs in office. After all, no one ever said that Gerald Ford was a decent human being and a trustworthy and good President, despite being Caucasian!
And that’s just my point. The color of this (or any other U.S. President) is irrelevant. What matters is how decent and focused they are, and whether what they want is truly best for all the people of this great nation.
By the way, the same is true for each of us as citizens. How are we behaving as individuals? Does what we say and do serve the interests of the whole public, or are we just catering to people similar to ourselves?
It’s test time, America. Time to stand up and be counted—for what is good—before it’s too late.
*(most people in Liberia earned less than a dollar a day back then—U.S. dollars in fact, since Liberia began as a colony for former slaves and adopted the stars and stripes pattern of the U.S. flag, along with the English language and our currency as its own)