Thursday, January 22, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
I will celebrate a resurrection of my faith in America and the ideal of democracy. I feel like I (we) made a difference this time.
I will celebrate an end to the Bush administration. Bush was a very ordinary man when we need an extraordinary man. He was small-minded, stubborn, incurious, and defensive, easily manipulated by the powerful people around him. He was completely lacking in self-knowledge, completely convinced of his own righteousness, and completely unwilling to take responsibility for any failure (like most of us). Instead of unifying the country in perilous times, he took every opportunity to exploit tragedy for political gain. I no longer hate Bush, like I did (I am ashamed to admit) during the height of the War. He seems a sad little pathetic man now, and I pity him. But Mr. Bush should never, ever, be given any sort of responsibility again.
I will celebrate the beginning of the Obama administration. Obama is the first contemporary politician I have ever admired on a personal level. He is a man who, unlike Bush, has done the hard mental and experiential work necessary to understand himself, to understand the world in which we live, and to understand other people and nations. He won't be perfect, and he may deeply disappoint us, but right now I am ready to trust somebody again.
I will celebrate that people within our own country and across the globe can see themselves in our new president. I do not only mean racially, although that is a big part of it (I continue to hear reports from across the country about how urban schools have been recharged by Obama's election). I also mean that anybody who comes from broken homes, anybody that wasn't born with silver spoons in their mouths, can enjoy this moment. I also mean that geeks, nerds, and, well, readers everywhere can enjoy this moment -- a true intellectual for president! I also mean that basketball lovers everywhere can enjoy this moment, and revel in the basketball loving cabinet that Obama has put together (this sounds corny, but I think basketball, above all other sports, teachers you a lot about team play, grit and determination, and respect for special expertise and excellence).
I think the next few years will be the last chance for America to restore its moral stature and become again a civilized nation. People worldwide are ready to give us one more chance.
Tomorrow can't some soon enough.
we are trying
to find what is
which is not
to ignore what is
to peel it
peel it away
peel it away and remove
feathers and veils and sequins
aprons and glasses and clothes
hair and skin and fat
muscles and tendons and organs
bones and cartilage and blood
to pour out the
glass of mere existence
to find what is
when everything is emptied
to keep eyeballs and
hold them in
to keep their big round
looking at us
to see something in
Poetry Is (1998)
in the fingers,
Words that tickle -- a feather
in the throat;
Words that pulse red
in the chest,
Words that escape
from guarded thoughts;
Words that hollow
Words that live
in one world and another;
Words that track wet prints
on hard, dry sand,
Words that irrigate, flow
through clouded minds;
Words that seek assurance
Words that blindly hit
on the mark;
Words that bloom beautiful
in fields of ugliness
Words that float answers
in oceans of questions;
Words that cry with the baby
in the night,
Words that hold the bitterness
of the failure of lifetimes;
Words that tell truth --
I should add that Obama continues to do exactly what he said he would do -- bring the country together. From the New York Times today:
As contenders for the presidency, [Obama and McCain] had hammered each other for much of 2008 over their conflicting approaches to foreign policy, especially in Iraq. (He’d lose a war! He’d stay a hundred years!) Now, however, Mr. Obama said he wanted Mr. McCain’s advice, people in each camp briefed on the conversation said. What did he see on the trip? What did he learn?From the Sunday Times:
It was just one step in a post-election courtship that historians say has few modern parallels, beginning with a private meeting in Mr. Obama’s transition office in Chicago just two weeks after the vote. On Monday night, Mr. McCain will be the guest of honor at a black-tie dinner celebrating Mr. Obama’s inauguration.
Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.
From the shallow brittleness of George W Bush to the supple strength of Obama is a revolution in temperament and style not seen since Jimmy Carter gave way to Ronald Reagan 28 years ago. It signals the kind of administration that now looms before us: a conciliatory, inclusive, pragmatic form of liberalism. It’s a liberalism eager to learn from the insights of conservatives, and it is pioneered by a president-elect shrewd enough to know that generosity of spirit means more leverage and influence, not less....
We cannot know whether he will succeed, whether partisanship and America’s culture war will slowly eat him up, or whether in government, as he makes decisions with winners and losers, his aura will evaporate. But what we can say is that, so far, he shows every sign of meaning what he said about leaving that divisive, destructive froth behind. Just reading the papers every morning, we see every sign that the gravity of the crisis his predecessor bequeaths him makes this necessary.
The Washington establishment still doesn’t know quite what to make of him. For almost two decades the town has been divided ideologically and culturally — red and blue, neoliberal and neoconservative — shying and plunging in mood swings and feuding. For 16 years, under the guidance of political hatchet men such as Bill Clinton’s Dick Morris and Bush’s Karl Rove, these divisions have been seen as ways to wedge your way to short-term political advantage, to exploit American difference for electoral or PR gain.
The press learnt that cynicism was the only reliable guide to understanding politics and that world-weariness was the same as wisdom. That fear of seeming naive was what inhibited many in the press from greater scepticism about Saddam’s alleged arsenal in the run-up to the Iraq war.
It was an emotionally familiar and comfortable rut. The baby-boomer generation, reared and suckled on post-Vietnam divides, staged their battles like bitter spouses after years of a failed marriage who never really planned on divorce. Now, with this first post-boomer politician, the children who witnessed their parents’ endless fighting have taken over. And it’s the children who seem like adults.
Take a few largely symbolic things that Obama has done since November 4. He gave his chief rival and fierce competitor, Hillary Clinton, the biggest job in his government. He reached out to John McCain, his opponent in the autumn campaign, and will hold a dinner in McCain’s honour soon. He asked a powerful evangelical voice, Rick Warren, to give the inaugural invocation.
Last week he dined with a group of Republican columnists who endorsed his opponent. The dinner was at the home of George Will, the closest America gets to a Tory mind. He did this before he talked to any journalists who had actually supported him. At the Pentagon, Obama has asked Bush’s appointee, Robert Gates, to stay on. He asked Mark Dybul, Bush’s only openly gay appointee, to remain as global Aids co-ordinator. This is not Karl Rove’s America. In so many ways, it symbolises its undoing.
Obama acts like a kind of antacid to the American stomach. He has walked through the churn of racial and cultural and religious polarisation and somehow calmed everyone down.
Last spring he faced his biggest crisis — the exploitation by the Republican right of his incendiary former pastor Jeremiah Wright, a man whose penchant for polarisation was pathological. At a moment of extreme emotion and political peril, Obama found a way to give a speech that remains the greatest of recent times, to remind Americans of their complex and painful racial past, and not to condescend or cavil. The intellectual achievement of the speech was impressive enough — sufficient to provoke Garry Wills, the Lincoln scholar, to compare it to the Gettysburg address. That Obama wrote and delivered it as he heard in his ears every racial stereotype that had pummelled his psyche for his entire life bespoke an emotional maturity that still shocks....
He doesn’t charm like Clinton did and Bush tried to. Unlike both men, but especially Clinton, he appears to have no need to be loved by everyone in the room. He often finds it hard to disguise how tired he feels. He is capable of evoking enormous inspiration, but he has yet to be able to hide it when he is bored. There is a wryness to his conversation and a dryness to his humour, both of which are sustained by an intellect of power. The revered liberal jurist Larry Tribe has said that in decades of teaching at Harvard Law School, he has never had a cleverer student than Obama. I don’t think he’s exaggerating. Intellectually, Obama is in Bill Clinton’s league. But what he has over Clinton is emotional intelligence to buttress his grasp of policy.
What he gets, what he seems to intuit, is how to make others feel as if they are being heard. This is simple enough in theory but hard to pull off consistently in practice. His model is to figure out what another person needs and, if it helps Obama to get what he wants, to provide it.
He sensed that Hillary Clinton needed independent respect in defeat. He couldn’t give her the vice-presidency, which she desperately wanted, because it would have given her a dangerous rival power base if they succeeded. So he offered her the next best thing, and she, unlike her husband, was smart enough to say yes.
He realised that Rick Warren was an egomaniac and wanted some kind of platform, so he gave him a largely symbolic role at the inauguration and allowed Warren to preen. He knew that what Washington pundits really craved was not the truth, but a sense of their own importance. So he let them throw him a dinner party.
He sensed that McCain was in deep emotional withdrawal after his horrifying and crude descent into raw partisanship last autumn. And so he celebrated the old, bipartisan McCain and asked for his support in the Senate.
This is not typical for politicians in any climate and era. In the post-Clinton, post-Bush divide of the US, it’s a shock of sorts, and one most Washingtonians have yet to absorb. More shocks, I suspect, are to come, as people begin to realise that the new politics Obama promised is actually more than just a marketing device for a campaign....
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Friday, January 02, 2009
The reason I call myself a Christian is not because I manage to subscribe, at any given moment, to all the truths that the hierarchy of my church insists I believe in; let alone because I am a good person or a "good Catholic." I call myself a Christian because I believe that, in a way I cannot fully understand, the force behind everything decided to prove itself benign by becoming us, and being with us. And as soon as people grasped what had happened, what was happening, the world changed for ever. The Gospels - all of them, including those that were rejected by the early Church - are mere sketches of a life actually lived, and an experience that can never be reduced to words or texts or doctrines. And the world as it was - as it still is - was unable to tolerate this immense occasion; and so Jesus was executed and the life more in touch with divinity than any other life was ended abruptly, when it was still achingly young. The existence of such a life was both so wondrous that it changed everything; and also so terrifying it had to be snuffed out.
The point of this incarnation was surely not to construct a litany of offenses by which we are to judge our own lives at any moment, to force us to thrash and writhe in a constant ordeal of self-criticism and guilt. The point was merely to be with us; and by being with us, to show us better how to be human, how better to embrace our lives by accepting the divine around us and inside us. By letting go, we become. By giving up, we gain. And we learn how to live - now, which is the only time that matters.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Just think of this: The movie is about a political interview. These things happen all time time, and they are among the most boring events on television. Yet, Ron Howard tells the story so that the audience is hanging on every word, every nuance, every expression, every turn of phrase. The interview is depicted as a moment of high personal drama for both Nixon and Frost, and the movie makes it seem as if justice itself hangs in the balance.
The film has a human touch the moved me immensely. Nixon is shown as a tormented figure, haunted by personal and political demons. He is depicted as a figure always trying to fit in with an elite crowd that would never accept him. He strives to find that last shred of dignity in the life of the monster that he had become. Frank Langella's performance as Nixon is breathtaking. I continued to loath Nixon's crimes, and the movie certainly does not exonerate him. But at the same time, I came to see myself in him as a somewhat defensive, insecure, paranoid, and imperfect person. Langella turns Nixon into an everyman, which is quite an achievement. The rest of the cast is also brilliant.
The movie, of course, like most historical films, is not perfectly true to history. It exaggerates Nixon's sympathetic side, the extent of his "confession" in the actual interviews, and the complicity of both Frost and Nixon in manipulating the made-for-TV event. There was a sentiment about the movie, however, which rang true to me from what I know about Nixon. And from what little I understand about human nature.
So, you should go see it. It is, I believe, a remarkable achievement.