In America, Politics as Self-Renewal

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WASHINGTON – The paradox of American politics is this odd mixture between pragmatism and grandiose wishful thinking. Hillary Clinton studied for president for decades. She keeps reminding her audiences about all her accomplishments; or at least sophisticated knowledge about the issues that touch Americans today.

Then, out of nowhere, comes about a new entity, a new type of politicians who says: “What you know does not mean much; unless you create a new system that engages people to work together for a shared and just solution”.

Well, this changes the framework of the conversation. Clinton says: “I really know the issues”. Obama says: “Knowing the issues may be a good thing. But if you cannot create the new environment that invites genuine cooperation, we will not be able to make much progress”.

And here we are. Clinton keeps insisting on her field-earned qualifications. Beyond that, she is a woman. The really first, fully qualified female who can be a credible president. But this is not enough. Obama, also a first, as the first African American with a real shot at the highest national political office, keeps saying that he “has” the magic formula that will transform wishful thinking into tangible reality for the many, especially the many who feel taken for granted and routinely left out.

Obama’s message has had and has a tremendous echo. I have written already about the dangers of politics as some kind of spiritual re-invention. Yet, the fact that a man who is different, so different, in his “being”, in as much as his being is the personification of what can happen when black and white ethnic elements are mixed, can create so much good will is quite interesting. Who are Obama’s most enthusiastic followers? The young. Those who are generally not in the political process, as they find it –in its current status– reflexively dull and untrue.

Whatever can be said about Obama’s appeal, whereby “his” pronunciation of a yearning for “change” sounds true, probably because he believes in it, this appeal is in large part the reflection of a yearning for a quasi-religious sense of commitment to something “higher” in this land of New Things.

Let us remember that this Republic, at least in terms of a collective Dream that has been passed on to us, is an experiment about the possibilities of human ingenuity combined with industry. Obama’s reminder that, unless we change our ways, not much will be transformed in policies, has had a tremendously strong echo. What is most strange is that, beyond his own personal stated commitment to make this happen, we are all entirely clueless as to the means that he will/can adopt to get us into the New Promised Land of virtuous cooperation. But an (apparently) sincere desire to radically transform a system of half truths and institutionalized trench warfare, dominated by localized self-interests; a system in which it is a lot easier to stop something then to make it happen, seems to be enough for millions who have clustered around Barak Obama, this new biracial symbol of America’s perpetual self-regeneration.

Of course, descending into the boring practical world, the trick would be in really knowing how to marry in some meaningful fashion the lofty goals of self-renewal with the practical tools of government that we have available. But this is never discussed in any detail.

Despite that, even taking for granted Obama’s truthfulness and goals, how is he going to accomplish the goal-dream so much wanted by millions who would like to look at politics as the decent way to create fairness, openness and opportunity for most, in an equitable and bias-free fashion? While I do not know for sure, I guess that many would want America to be true to its slogan: “Real opportunity for all those who are willing to work hard, within a fair system that has no racial or class favorites, to achieve whatever they want to”.

This is the dream like vision of the non partisan intellectuals of the XVIII Century who really wanted a world free of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. A world in which the enthusiastic pursuit of education would be the guiding force towards higher achievements. Education was thus pushed forward by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. And education, in their worldview at least, was not partisan. It was about creating on Earth “The Age of Light”.

So, back to the present; why Barak Obama? Because, in the current landscape, he is focusing on a different perspective. A message of Unity, even though he does not say how this Unity will come about, within the present institutional and political framework. We need Unity, says the Man who –at least symbolically– unites in his person two races in conflict. We should build bridges with all and focus on the way we pursue goals, as opposed to the goals themselves. If the way we pursue our goals is partisan and belligerent, well, we may be losing something important, so important as to devalue any meaning from whatever accomplishment.

Sure, if we dream a moment, let us think of someone who can indeed be trusted to be sincere, moved by a desire to promote the common good, as opposed to some special interest, would it not be wonderful to select this person as our steady leader? Yes, of course it would be.

But here, forgive me, we go back to the need to examine a fundamental premise: what is it that makes a republic a viable republic? Obama tells us what we are not, what we are lacking. Fine. And he is probably right. However, a successful modern republic is not about every now and then a great disinterested leader coming about. It is really about the premise of maturity of most citizens (and not just of One Leader) and their ability to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at solving issues. If we need a Savior who will –who knows how really—help us out of the swamps in which we got ourselves because we do not have the rooted maturity upon which a modern republic is predicated, then the issue is not about Him; however sincere his argument; but, once again, about  us. If we cannot have a meaningful, mature polity constituted of reasonably mature people, then, as last reort, we need Obama, or, in the future, another Obama-like character who will come about to remind us of how low we have fallen.

But the hard solution, the really hard solution, is not in selecting Him as our Savior; but in understanding that the complicated issue is in how we should grow out of this nasty predicament created by our immature understanding of politics. A well functioning political process should be predicated on attained maturity on the part of the participants. Maturity, in turn, should give us a mature discussion as to how, collectively, we can advance the best type of common good for ourselves and the world we live in. If politics is about the advancement of a particular ideology that needs to see its political triumph, well, we have re-created another Monster. Little Monster, Big Monster, depending on the circumstances. 

However, Obama’s song “about new ways”and the surprisingly wide national echo it has created, should not be lost, as it tells us a lot of where we are. He is telling us that, no matter how smart some of us are, the issue is about more “mature attitudes” towards the policy process. The instinctive exceptional echo that his call to seriousness in our hearts has created is an important sign as to the need for reformulating the basic fundamentals of what is needed to advance the policy process.

Unfortunately, the issue is that, in a few months, after all this primary avalanche will be done and over with, the canary song –the Obama phenomenon– that tells us that there is gas in the mine shaft may be lost and easily forgotten.

Obama’s echo among the young, the instinctive outpouring of sympathy, and the cascade of millions towards this (apparently) different man trying to articulate a new way of looking at the political process, should tell us a great deal as to where the work should take place. In a sense, he appears to be what most people would like to see among elected leaders. Vision, passion, poise, good will, without the devilish element of ideological bias.

(Of course, Hillary Clinton, his opponent in this primary season has desperately tried to affirm that Obama is all appearance and no substance. Nice but empty speeches. The words may resonate; but there is no articulation of a political strategy and of believable policies to take care of actual issues. Not to mention that the man has no real experience. So Hillary Clinton appeals more to middle aged “practical” women. But Obama is the candidate of the young and of the intellectually sophisticated who collectively have thrown an avalanche of money into his campaign coffers, while he is appealing to the independent who may think that they may have finally found their champion,as Obama speaks a “different” language.)

What do I take from this Obama phenomenon? it indicates a real yearning; but it cannot possibly provide the solution to the problems that he points out. The “solution” to the collective soul searching that would like to find a magic cure by electing a “different” leader is escapism.

The real “solution”? Educate young people. Teach them about the ideologically free values of republican ideas; focused on: broadening opportunity as much as possible; and allowing people to take their rightful place within an unbiased society in which birth is not destiny. It is difficult, of course for most of us to realize that only by adopting these values and “ground rules” we can be the more co-operative citizens Obama talks about. Very difficult. But true.

Unfortunately, as always, we are rushing. We are rushing fast to determine who is going to be the nominee for the Democrats. Difficult to pause and reflect on the peculiar call for something radically “different” coming from around the nation triggered by the Obama phenomenon.

And what is the call about? The desire for declaring that we are now in a a post-racial America in which all ethnic issues have been resolved. The very fact that millions of whites do not have any problems in having faith in this biracial Man should tell us a great deal as to what unbiased human beings may be able to do. However, while noting all this, the problem is that we do not know anything about the depth of these feelings. Are they just fantasies or deeply thought through convictions? And when “Obama the Uniter” will call upon the many to work on behalf of the worse off what will the response be?

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