Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Bridge to Nowhere?

I think it unlikely that I'll read "The Bridge," the latest biography of Barack Obama by David Remnick. I did read the review in yesterday's New York Times and it sounded like a good read, but it's really a matter of time at the moment. The main thesis of the book, as I understood it, is suggested in the title: that the dominant trait of Obama's character is his drive to build bridges, to conciliate--a trait we have witnessed in abundance this past year. I gather that Remnick traces it back to the childhood wound of parental separation, which makes sense to me; and the reviewer suggests that this characteristic has not served Obama--or the country--well in the first year of his presidency.

Many would agree with this assessment. That famous "bridge to nowhere" seems like a sadly appropriate analogy. We have seen the President repeatedly attempt to reach out to "the other side," only to be contemptuously spurned by those who seek to take advantage of his desire to reach middle ground. If you build a bridge, you need to have terra firma on the other side of the water--something that has been consistently denied him. I understand and sympathize with those who are impatient with his patience, and who consider it an exercise in futility; though none can say he presented a different picture of himself during his presidential campaign. He has been nothing if not consistent in his insistence on both the philosophy and the strategy of conciliation.

And I myself do not find this an undesirable quality, even though some less patient part of me agrees with Bill Maher, for example, when he faults Obama for not having enough Bush in him--enough, I suppose, of the aggressive, willful bully who will do anything to have his way. There are many, myself included, who hunger for more radical change in this toxic social and political environment. Amongst the things I'm for, that are not happening fast enough, count the much-needed regulation of the financial establishment; a fairer and saner policy on immigration; a robust health care system with a genuine public option--or Medicare for all; jobs for all who want them; the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the full implementation of rights for gays and lesbians; a green energy policy to protect the future of the planet; an end to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh, and the prosecution of those responsible for the lies that led us into war, and those responsible for approving the use of torture. Yes.

There's a lot of this that we're not getting at all, and a lot that we're not getting fast enough for my taste. And yet... In Obama's modus operandi I recognize something of the Buddha's Middle Way, a respect even for those with whom he disagrees. I notice my own tendency to impute ignorance or evil motives to those who see things differently from me, but if I'm to listen to the dharma, I must allow--however ruefully!--that My Way is not the only or necessarily the Right Way. And I'm to believe in the dharma as a true guide to the proper way to live my life, I must believe in the politics it implies even when they seem distasteful or ineffectual to me. I must work on the assumption that even the Tea-Baggers are looking, passionately, in their own way, for their happiness in life, just as I am looking for mine; and it's far healthier for me to think of them with compassion than to vent my anger at them. In clinging to my rightness, I do nothing to alleviate their suffering and only increase my own.

These are not easy things to say. There is that intellectual part of me that regards such attitudes as naive at best, at worst a cop-out. And even whilst I myself admire the "cool"--read, "equanimity"--for which Obama is so often criticized, I am happy that he has his critics, even those most bitterly and vocally disappointed. I believe that they created their own expectations and projected them upon this man in the form of hope, but nonetheless they do us all a service in affirming that other side of the Middle Way and, in a sense, in keeping Obama honest. The essential ingredient in the quality of conciliation, after all, is the ability to listen to the criticism of one's friends with as much careful attention as to that of one's opponents.


CHI SPHERE said...

My neighbor in New Mexico is Mercedes Mondragon
and her dog Sangre is a blue healer who is 14 years old like Merc who is 97 and very good with her colt pistol down on the creek where the grouse feed..

We were having grouse and Hatch green chilies with corn at breakfast last week and B Rock's name was heard on the radio. She turned it off and stared at me so sadly with eyes full of tears.

She said,

"tears come to my eyes when I see him trying to bring balance like Lincoln. This nation has become a game show or a pie fight..the gong show with the FOX and the CNN".

"I"ve lived 6 dogs now" she said. Merc measures her years by the average healers life span which is 15 years. "6 may be the last one for me but I heard some Ukraine woman made 114...hell I can still ride and walk to the mountain (10 miles) in a day".

I think Merc is sad like many of us who wish for insight, vision, compassion and swift solutions to problems that DO HAVE ANSWERS ALREADY BUT ARE BEING IGNORED FOR JUST A FEW MORE YEARS OF "HOOD WINKING FOR DOLLARS" (the name of the world's game show).


PeterAtLarge said...

She sounds like a noble and an honest woman, Gary. Someone good to know. For a dog update, check out The Buddha Diaries today!