I'm going to get a bit out of my depth here. I don't follow American politics all that closely in part due to residing outside the U.S. I understand that some on the right are aghast at the Obama administration's expansion of the sphere of government, including and in particular into healthcare. (I may be particularly insensitive to this, due to not paying taxes in the U.S. right now.) I understand that some on the left have a sense of betrayal with his appointments, his prosecution of the wars, and not ending the witch hunt on gays in the military. (For obvious reasons, I don't feel betrayed on many of these, gay witch hunt excepted.) But having acknowledged the limits of my familiarity here, let me say:
I LOVE this man. Seriously. I don't know how much happier I could be that Barack Obama is President. Yippeee!!! (*)
I never felt and gave my reasons why at the time that someone's appeal to European "allies" or international good will was a reason to elect somebody. But, given the way President Obama is working out, I'm very happy to enjoy that benefit now. (*) I also never felt a candidate's race whatever the symbolism or progress his election would represent was a good reason to vote for him. But, again, I'm thrilled now to revel in how completely cool, and generally wonderful it is, to have elected a black man to the nation's highest office. Let me amend that: a young, cool, African-American, basketball-playing, intellectual. How completely great is that? It's completely great.
I also expressed (again, before the fact) my sense that Barack Obama has a really first-rate mind, and a really first-rate temperament and that these faculties would enable him to transcend (what I perceived as) the limitations of his experience and background; the hard left-ness of his views and voting record; and the messianic vacuity of his campaign. I hoped and there's no way to say this without sounding condescending, though many (including me) said the same of Bush that he would grow in office. (*)
My first sense that just this had happened was the President's authorisation of the troop surge in Afghanistan. I read this piece in the Weekly Standard by Bill Kristol and Frederick Kagan, instructing quibblers on the right to suck it up and get behind the mission and the President.
So we say: Support the troops. Support the mission. Support the president.
I almost wept when I read this in part, I confess, because it gave me a sense that there's more intellectual honesty on the right. (Admittedly, the guys I read on the right are not, well, not right-wing talk radio guys.) You could always feel much of the left just willing Bush to fail even if it meant our troops being defeated on the battlefield. (*) I hated that and loved seeing something beyond it. I loved that the right was willing to take yes for an answer from the Democratic President.
But, I hasten to add, I was also happy with the decision, and that the President reached it after sober consideration and wide consultation.
Okay, and but and I hope you've hung with me this far what shot the arrow straight through my heart was Obama's Nobel acceptance speech. Holy heck. He came straight out of the gate saying (*) Okay, I'm here accepting this peace prize as commander in chief of a nation involved in two wars.
And it just got better and more grown up, and more realistic, and more idealistic, all at the same time from there. In its totality, I'd say it's both a masterwork of oratory and, as well, the best (and certainly most high-profile) assessment of how we've gotten into the various messes we're in, and how we just might get out. It is a slap in the face to the reflexively anti-American Euro-weenies, who have prospered under the blanket of American Security for 65 years; it is an admonition to wake up and smell the tyranny (actual tyranny, not the Bush administration) to the reflexively anti-war left who are unaware that, yes, and sadly for us, there are things worse than war. It is positively Bushian in its recognition of freedom and human rights as the aspirations of all people. It is the output of a guy who has a sense of history (which makes him realistic) and is heir to the great idealists of history (which makes him dream lovely and big dreams). Watching this makes me tear up and cheer, severally.
You should watch it, too. (At 37 minutes, it's not short; but it is wonderful.)
I've taken the liberty of pulling out a few of my favourite quotes (from the text).
I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God.
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence … But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms … We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.
I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it.
For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.
For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development.
We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements these movements of hope and history they have us on their side.
But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached their fundamental faith in human progress that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. [*]
Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams … Let us live by their example.