If you listened carefully to President Obama’s laundry list of policy pronouncements in his State of the Union address, you heard the forced enthusiasm of a mediocre man. The policies were reasonable, fair, and sound, but the tone was tinny. America and the world needed the depth of a Lincoln, but got the shallowness of a Bush.
The lesson that the pundits drew from Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” who was channeled by Daniel Day Lewis and which leaves many Americans in tears at its predictable conclusion, was that politics is a dirty game and Honest Abe played it with Machiavellian mastery. Balderdash.
The lesson from the movie Lincoln was that a political genius who bore the sins of slavery and the crushing weight of hundreds of thousands of dead on his shoulders in the first modern war, was able to achieve the momentous legislative milestone of ending slavery while at the same time transcending the pettiness and pettifoggery of politics.
Daniel Day Lewis, who never left character during filming, said, “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met, and that’s the effect Lincoln has on most people who take the time to discover him.”
Why did even many Southerners, who were just defeated in the horrendously bloody Civil War, weep when they heard that Lincoln had been assassinated? Dispensing with bigoted haters in all regions of America that wanted him to fail, why does Obama gain only tepid defense and remote affection, even from his supporters?
A clue can be found in the deep and willful mis-portrayal of reality in Obama’s first State of the Union speech of his second term: “We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and the state of our union is strong.”
It’s a sad and obvious irony that Barack Obama, the African-American son of a Kenyan father he barely knew, is the inheritor of the office and the beneficiary of the struggle that freed the slaves those many years ago. We cannot blame Barack for the nation we have become, but neither can we exonerate him and extol his small virtues at a time of great peril for humankind.
Sorrowfully, Obama simply did not have the capacity to rise to the challenge. President Obama has no depth of passion for humanity, and so no relationship to posterity, which Lincoln so fervently kept his eyes fixed upon. Obama rode a wave of hope in the people of this nation and the world that he would rise to the challenge, but he has presided over a tsunami of despair, as Syrian civilians are slaughtered abroad and small children at home.
The problem is not one of disappointed expectation, as so many defenders of Barack Obama accuse his critics on the left, casting them the political equivalent of disgruntled employees. It’s not unfair to compare Obama to Lincoln because Barack Obama came to office citing Lincoln, quoting from the very book Spielberg used to make the movie—Doris Kearns Goodwins “Team of Rivals.”
Indeed, Obama emulated Lincoln by choosing his opponent in a bitterly fought primary, Hillary Clinton, to be secretary of state, as Lincoln chose his rival, William H. Seward. All the chumminess between Barack, Hillary and Bill only underlines the fact that Obama has upheld the status quo, and did not break with it, as all great men and woman must do.
The true critique of Obama’s character is much harsher. The Nobel Prize epitomized the self-set bar Obama had to clear, and he has fallen woefully short. President Obama expanded the same fake war under false pretenses that should have sent Dick Cheney into social and political Siberia. Instead Cheney just landed on the most serious talk show in the United States, Charlie Rose, who kissed his fanny for a full hour two days ago.
Much has been made recently about the parlous condition of the Republican Party, which has earned its mantle of scapegoat for the parlous condition of our political culture in America.
“The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology,” said a leading pundit and fellow recipient of Nobel Prize (in economics), Paul Krugman.
But that perspective deliberately misses the point. The problem isn’t a division over the epistemology of the parties; that’s just a clever way of saying nothing. The nature of knowledge isn’t the issue, nor even, in plain English, what Hillary trenchantly said in her parting shot: the Republicans “just will not live in an evidence-based world.”
An administration that announces, the week after its secrecy and stonewalling about the use of drones in the ‘war on terror’ were exposed, that a new medal of valor is being minted for drone pilots bombing people by remote control from trailers in Nevada, is also not in touch with reality.
A nation that cannot protect its children from slaughter, nor even learn enough from the Sandy Hook massacre to pass a law banning military assault rifles, is a nation that has perished, and does not deserve to lead the world. Indeed, how can it lead humankind anywhere, except further down the rabbit hole into darkness?
Democrats can chant “right-wing insanity” all they want, but until they face and address the underlying rot, the core of immense apathy in the body politic that they are inseparable from, they add to the problem, and set the stage for even greater right-wing madness.
Democrats are just as guilty of denial of the actual state of the union, and of continuing the political blame game. With heavy heart, the truth must be faced: America has become as irrelevant to the crisis of humanity as the Catholic Church.
A true and adequate response to the global crisis, as Lincoln had to the national crisis of slavery, may come from America in part, but it will not come from America as a whole. We are a hopelessly fragmented nation. The question is, is humankind a hopelessly fragmented species?