This week, as President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union message, I thought I would immodestly honor the occasion by offering my own observations and reflections.
In a recent New Yorker profile our president is quoted, “Every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse …”
There’s some good news. Our economy is recovering. Millions of Americans, in spite of Republican efforts to deny them health and happiness, now have viable health care benefits. Withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches.
Flash: This week, aging rocker Ted Nugent, an NRA director, described President Obama as a “Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”
There’s bad news. Social welfare programs are under assault. The gap is widening between rich and poor. Climate change and evolution deniers continue to challenge science. West Virginia water is poisoned.
Flash: This week Florida Republican House candidate Joshua Black tweeted about our president, “I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.”
You want a real critique of the Obama years? Let me help you.
Although I often struggle to find language that reflects my aspirations, anxieties and angst, and although I despair when I see that the American right has successfully neutered the American presidency, there is room for critique.
Unfortunately, many Americans were unable to recognize that Barack Obama was more ideologically related to Dwight D. Eisenhower than to Saul Alinsky and, as a result, they have spent the last five years demonizing him. It’s too bad that some Americans are so blinded by his color and exotic birth story that they created false narratives and scandals that have rent our national cohesion and diminished America’s once-hallowed status.
Many of the righteous actions I believe Barack Obama promised America are unfulfilled: The hope of truly universal health care, the closure of Guantanamo and a recalibration of the war on terror are unfulfilled. The embrace of drone technology to project war abroad and the surveillance and spying on Americans is unacceptable. The sacrifice of Main Street on Wall Street’s altar is blasphemy.
Unfulfilled promises are part of Obama’s legacy, but they are only partly his fault. From the night of his first inauguration there’s been a concerted opposition, by both ideological and racial opponents, to deny Obama’s legitimacy. The lack of cooperation by Republicans has forced Obama to cobble together priorities and policies that could have been much more fully fashioned, deployed and effective had they received any modicum of bipartisan support.
Flash: This week, one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee evoked “Uncle Sugar” and “women’s libidos” in an attack on Democrats. Preacher Huckabee’s offensive comments were really my turning point. Huckabee’s rant reminded me of Rumi’s:
“A conceited person sees someone sin
and the flames of hell rise up in him,
He calls that hellish pride defense of the Religion;
he doesn’t notice his own arrogant soul.”
Huckabee affirms my belief that America is currently living through a period of dysfunctional dementia that threatens the security of our nation, jeopardizes its economic health and supports the continued oppression of the oppressed both at home and abroad. With an embrace of arrogance and ignorance on one side, a demonization of the Other in the middle, and an adoration of materialism and celebrity on the other, America risks diminishing our mutual worth.
Flash: This week, on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell cut off a discussion about the NSA for breaking news about Justin Bieber’s arrest.
By failing to witness the image of America as being reflected in each of us, regardless of color, birth story or wealth, by failing to embrace goodness in the world around us, Obama’s opposition is not a loyal opposition — it’s disloyal, both to the Constitution and to the American people. They abuse the Other. They reject love.
Yes, it’s true that the world is a dangerous place, that the Sochi Olympics are threatened with terrorism, that Iraq daily witnesses increased violence, that new pharaohs rise in Egypt.
But, listen carefully; it’s also true that Iran has entered into the first stage of a negotiated settlement over its nuclear program.
It’s also true that in Geneva, for the first time in months, the Syrian government and opposition forces are gathered in the hope that peace talks can follow.
And, listen carefully, what is really true is that what opponents of a Palestine-Israel two-state solution really fear is the success of negotiations with Iran and Syria, diminishing regional hostilities and bloodshed.
If Iran and Syria can find peace at the table then pressure will ratchet up on Israel to give Golan to Syria, to relinquish its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and negotiate as equals with Palestinians for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Recognizing those legacies and hopes, as true believers in mercy, dignity, justice, fairness, as believers in the Good, we must ask, as Americans, as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, as stewards of this precious earth drenched with the light of knowledge we must ask, as Scripture compels us (Qur’an 54:17, 7:204):
Will you not see?
Will you not listen?
Will you not pay attention?
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.