Several short thoughts, nothing more. Due to lack of sleep and general exhaustion, this won’t be my finest bit of writing ever, but here goes…
1. MANY VOTES WERE FRAUDULENT – Don’t worry, this isn’t what it seems to be. I’ve not got some conspiracy theory floating around in my head about mass instances of voter fraud. I suppose I mean ‘misguided’, but that didn’t seem strong enough.
I would like to look at the simple language of the Referendum ballot: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ In all honesty, I think both sides of the debate have obscured the question, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I think when most people look at that question they aren’t reading ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ at all. It could be any number of things:
‘Should we sack the Tories?’
‘Should Alex Salmond and the SNP run Scotland?’
‘Should Scotland be an independent country on 19 September 2014?’
‘Do you want to lose your pension?’
‘Do you want to lose Coronation Street?’
‘Do you appreciate the monarchy?’
The heart-breaking thing is that whilst some of those suggestions are legitimate or even debatable knock-on effects of union or independence, none of them are really an answer to the bigger question and the first two (and variations of them) are particularly deceiving as they involve conflating party politics and national sovereignty. I think that the Better Together folk were wise in having a Labour politician lead them (although they couldn’t find someone who sounded more Scottish than Alistair Darling?), indicating a cross-party effort to maintain the Union. Although Alex Salmond is an incredibly talented politician, he is also the First Minister and the leader of the SNP. Granted, the Referendum is a direct by-product of the SNP’s election to Scottish Parliament in 2011, but it could’ve been more effective to see less divisive faces leading the Yes campaign.
This all adds up to a wee bit of confusion when it comes to answering the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ In defence of the Yes campaign, I would argue that it is likely that many people were not thinking about the future of Scotland with a fully devolved and independent Scottish Parliament made up of all Scottish political persuasions. We wouldn’t need to ship our best and brightest to Westminster. They could stay here in Scotland where they have the opportunity to represent the interests of the people living in Scotland — because that would be the entire purpose of an independent Scottish Government. Instead, folk were thinking about a decade of Alex Salmond.
I also think a lot of folk have been using language to imply that had Scotland voted ‘Yes’ on 18 September, we would be an independent country on 19 September. Had we voted ‘Yes’, the new government would not have been established until 24 March 2016. This would allow a year and a half of consultation and negotiation; and to play into the previous point, a democratic vote for all eligible voters in Scotland. I’m seeing a lot of ‘still in the UK’-type language on social media this morning — no matter the outcome of yesterday’s Referendum, today we would still be in the UK.
2. SCOTLAND IS NOT THE SOCIALIST HAVEN SOME OF US HAVE BELIEVED IT TO BE — Results this morning indicate that areas of a higher working class and unemployed population came out overwhelmingly in favour of independence. In many of our minds (me included), we’ve harboured this delusion that the vast majority of Scots are like the working class folk in Glasgow and Dundee. But the reality is that Scotland is not as different from the rest of the United Kingdom as we thought. Of course, a Conservative politician in Scotland is most likely much further to the left than a Conservative politician in England. See Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. She’s a woman and a lesbian at that — two qualities that would have many of the English Tory gentry up in arms. But overall, it’s only common sense to acknowledge that not all Scots are socialists and up until only a few decades ago, Scotland had a long spell of complicity in the electing of Unionist/Conservative Governments in Westminster.
3. THIS IS NOT A TORY VICTORY / THIS IS NOT AN SNP DEFEAT — One great frustration among many I have with the result of this Referendum is that many folk are seeing this as either a Tory victory of an SNP defeat. It is neither of those things. At most, it is a Better Together victory and a Yes campaign defeat. Make no mistake — this vote does not indicate Scotland’s approval of Westminster or the UK Government. Likewise, it does not indicate Scotland’s disapproval of Holyrood and the Scottish Government. Instead, a slim majority of Scottish voters decided that our best option at this point is not full independence. Not only that, but in the midst of their grief, the SNP and the Yes campaign should take some consolation in the fact that over the length of this campaign the support of Scottish independence is at a record high. It seems clear that the majority Scottish people want more power devolved to Scotland (a clarity that could have manifested itself in a result today had David Cameron not very sneakily traded a second, devo-max Referendum question for allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote back in the Edinburgh Agreement). If Westminster politicians stick to their promises, we will be seeing further devolution in future.
As far as the future of the SNP goes, I believe that a large number of Scots think that the SNP has done well for the Scottish people, hence 2011’s election of a majority SNP Scottish Government in a parliament designed to avoid majority governments. The SNP isn’t going anywhere any time soon. If anything, a ‘Yes’ vote would’ve been the best way to ensure that the SNP would eventually dissolve.
4. AT A CERTAIN POINT, A ‘YES’ WOULD MEAN THE SAME THING AS A WESTMINSTER GOVERNMENT — As one might expect, the first results that came in early this morning were the smallest council areas. When a majority of councils had reported (most of them ‘No’ votes) it became clear to me that had the bigger councils voted ‘Yes’ overwhelmingly, this would create the same lopsided democracy as we find at Westminster. Sure, in this hypothetical situation where ‘Yes’ won as a result of only a handful of large council areas, in numbers the ‘Yes’ would have it. As is already felt by the smaller councils, particularly in the Western and Northern Islands, they would be governed by the will of places like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. Folk have used this as an argument against independence, saying things like ‘Well, the Highlands and Islands have a different culture from the Lowlands, so we should have the opportunity to be independent countries too!’ I think that’s nonsense and you don’t need to think too long to realise that the Western and Northern Islands would be more closely managed and find greater clout in a smaller, more local Scottish Parliament (as opposed to Westminster). But what I really want to express is that, should Scotland one day decide to be an independent country, I would hope that would be the will of the vast majority of Scots, with support from the further flung parts of our beautiful country.
5. THE UK IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY INHOSPITABLE TO THE OUTSIDER — A major part of why I supported a ‘Yes’ vote is because I am noticing a trend of hostility and inhospitality to outsiders in the United Kingdom. (Given the results of the last European Parliamentary election, some might even argue that this is a European trend.) As an Angeliño-Glaswegian, I have a particular interest in the rights of immigrants, although my native language, skin colour and accent put me at a great advantage among non-native residents of Scotland. The cancer that is British fascism and isolationism is spreading beyond the confines of the political fringes. Many BNP voters have been making their way to UKIP, a seemingly more politically viable party these days. I thought that political separation from the UK would enable Scotland to become more intimately associated with the rest of Europe (and the rest of the world). Unfortunately, no amount of devolution will allow for that in a United Kingdom. I suppose that is one of my biggest fears in the wake of the Referendum results — that Scotland would become yet more xenophobic. And here’s a wee reminder to those who think that the SNP’s brand of nationalism is the same as Nazi nationalism — the SNP has never stood for ethnic nationalism, that’s the job of the SDL.
6. WE CANNOT LOSE MOMENTUM — In the wake of this morning’s result, it would be easy to become discouraged or complacent. Those who supported ‘Yes’ might feel downtrodden and exhausted with nothing to show for it. This isn’t the result of a simple football match. This was bigger than any General Election. And now the opportunity seems lost. It might be difficult to face the day today.
Those who supported ‘No’ might feel as if their work here is done, dusting off their hands, accompanied by a large sigh of relief. After the overwhelming nature of this very long and divisive campaign, we might feel too tired to continue. But there is much work to be done. I believe that many ‘No’ voters are not entirely convinced about this current system in the UK. Perhaps they believe that the best way for change is to remain part of the UK and renew it from the inside out. I can appreciate that.
Today we find ourselves in the midst of a nation divided. But we are still Scotland and despite the fact that we are not the socialist haven many have envisaged, we have many shared ideals, ideals that are not represented by many of the folk at Westminster. We cannot give in. We cannot feel defeated and we cannot feel as if our task is finished. We must unite as Scotland with love for one another in order to press for the change we need. We must hold those who made promises accountable to those promises. We must fight for a fairer and more just society. We must fight against the special breaks given to large financial institutions. We must fight for the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society. We must fight to do our part to demonstrate care and respect for nature and the precious natural resources so exploited by UK. And if it be our united will, we must fight to rid the UK of our hypocritical and immoral nuclear arsenal.
These are just some of the things we value. Let’s write a longer to-do list together.
Is America a force for good in the world? Many people would respond positively, convinced of some strange belief called ‘American exceptionalism’, and would top it off with a resounding ‘God bless America!’ But on the other end of the spectrum we find many who would respond with disgust, as if such a question was not worthy of a response at all. Perhaps both of these responses are true. In an interview on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, Orson Welles declared,
I think one thing that is generally true, the one generalisation that is true about America is that everything is true about it. It’s impossible to say anything that isn’t true, good or bad. Our enemies are right, our friends are right. It’s an awful big country [with] an awful lot of different kinds of people in it.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that statement. From my perspective, an expatriated American of Scottish extraction, I can’t bring myself to side with either one of the two extremist responses above. The disestablishmentarian in me would readily scoff at the first answer when looking at the actions of ‘America’ throughout its short history. ‘Manifest Destiny’; CIA plots to interfere with South American politics in order to stop the spread of COMMUNISM(!); capitalistic exploitation in America and in third world countries; the ill-informed invasion of Iraq in 2003; all those boy bands from the 90s – America isn’t a wholly good nation. But then again, such a thing doesn’t exist. That is not to say that America has done exclusively ‘bad’ things with this power. Throughout history America’s government—however manipulated by an insecure worldview—has acted in self-interest. Sometimes America’s self-interest is beneficial for the rest of the world and sometimes it isn’t.
When I left America for Scotland I was told by a Northern Irish friend that I would probably find myself defending my the States more than I expected. But to be honest, I never had an entirely bleak outlook on America in the first place. At different points I toyed with expatriation as a self-righteous act of political protest, but if anyone wants to lump America together as a homogeneous society of nit-wits I will try my best to convince them that this cannot truly be said of any nation. America, with more than 300 million citizens who for the most part find their origins in faraway countries, is a freakishly diverse and dynamic nation. But as it stands, and while this is not unique to America, many Americans (me included) and American governments have been guilty of making this world a poorer place in many inventive ways.
But America is also a beautiful nation full of beautiful people. This as well is not unique to America. But growing up in and around Los Angeles has shaped who I am in many ways and I wouldn’t change that fact even if I could. And while I profess a love for Scotland, it inevitably shares many of America’s flaws. I simply can’t escape what is broken with the world because I can’t escape the world. All any of us can do is aim to repair what is broken and spread what is good. But at this point we must ask the question, what is good?
Regarding America, and in celebration of the Fourth of July, when Americans commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (according to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams), I will now point out two things that I think are exemplary of the good: American music and baseball.
Let me make clear that these two things are not free of their own flaws. For instance, in addition to the 90s boy bands I mentioned earlier, America is also responsible for Journey and a host of other terrible artists. Of course this is a matter of taste, and while some poor folk might think that Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan are passé, their music had and continues to have a profound impact on culture around the world. Of course we are reminded of the words of Donne, ‘No man is an island’, and the two owe a great deal to a rich and fertile musical heritage borne from countless sources like the Negro spiritual. But it can be argued that, among many others, the highly influential genres of ragtime, jazz, country, rock and roll, soul, hip-hop, and grunge were all founded in the US of A. And of course there’s the broad Americana genre. Perhaps these developments can be attributed to the rapid economic growth of America throughout its short history, mixed with the continual convergence of various world cultures, all taking place alongside the development of music recording and transmission throughout the 20th century.
Regardless of the cause, American music has always pushed new ground and inspired subsequent generations of artists. See legendary musicians of days long past like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jelly Roll Morton, Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger (who is still kicking!). Their torch was passed to popular artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Thelonius Monk, and Frank Sinatra. Then this was followed by a wave of dramatic developments from American artists like The Beach Boys, Blondie, James Brown, T-Bone Burnett, Devo, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson, Love, Ramones, The Talking Heads, Television, The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, and Frank Zappa.
In more recent years we’ve seen the rise of significant American musicians like Lou Barlow, Jeff Buckley, Botch, Converge, Fugazi, Grandaddy, Aimee Mann, Neutral Milk Hotel, Nirvana, Pixies, R.E.M., Tupac Shakur, Daniel Smith, Elliott Smith, Sonic Youth, Sunny Day Real Estate, The White Stripes, Yo La Tengo, and yet more recent artists like Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Explosions in the Sky, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Cass McCombs, and Frightened Rab…nevermind that last one. Of course there are many more artists that should be included in this list (I merely picked some of my favourites), but that only goes to show how important American music has been in the last century. In Sufjan Stevens alone we can see a massive and ambitious output of constant reinterpretation and innovation.
Now onto the second good thing I want to affirm about America, which probably came as no surprise to seasoned LITC readers. Baseball may not enjoy the global fame of association football, but I happen to think it is the greatest sport to ever grace the face of the earth (though football’s soccer’s not far behind – apologies to cricket, rugby, golf, etc.). I’ve professed my undying love for baseball through blog posts on several different occasions. And despite the inevitable corruption that plagues the sport (greed, performance-enhancing drugs, marital infidelity, bench-clearing brawls, etc.), there’s a magic and heart to baseball that is truly good.
In the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, the character Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) is trying to convince the main character, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), to embrace his dream, a vision he had of a baseball field on his farm in Iowa. Because Ray has cleared land for this baseball field and has invested money into its development (outfitted with stadium lights and all), he is losing money rapidly and in this particular scene his brother-in-law is trying to convince him to sell the farm and leave his dream behind. Mann responds,
Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack…
And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces…
People will come Ray…
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
There’s much more going on at the core of the film, but I won’t spoil it – you should watch the film. What I want to point out is this sentiment expressed so sweetly through James Earl Jones’ transcendent voice. Throughout many wars and economic depressions baseball has remained because it is a special vessel of goodness. I suppose that’s part of why I love the Tigers so much – they represent this beacon of goodness (among many other great beacons of goodness in Detroit) in the midst of a suffering place.
So this is to you, America! And while I’m not too keen on the cult of the American flag, here’s Ol’ Glory, which stands as a mere symbol for the hopes and dreams—noble and ignoble—of millions of people throughout the last 235 years and in the present. May God bless America, but more importantly, may God continue to bless this struggling world.
Dear reader, as much as I am loathe to pay attention to anything having to do with politics, economics, etc. (i.e. anything that has practical/real implications for life), the media won’t let me ignore this whole “Tea Party” movement, which to this point I have associated with [shudder] Sarah Palin-ites, grumpy old white people, and ignorant loudmouths.
But now it’s come to my attention that a Republican primary candidate for California’s 30th State Senate District (which includes La Mirada, where I live) named Warren Willis has attached himself to the Tea Party movement. This would not make a lot of difference to me if I didn’t know that Willis was running an organization (the California School Project–CSP) which promotes and empowers on-campus Christian evangelism by students. I know a number of very thoughtful and intelligent people who work for CSP and who think highly of Willis, so I am left to wonder about his association with this group.
I have run across a few articles of late which have reinforced my predisposition to see the flaws of this movement. I’d be happy to encounter other perspectives if you can send them my way…
Some quotes from the articles I mentioned:
The movement is not yet united on a single platform or agenda…The lack of specifics allows anyone who is just existentially fed up (and who isn’t, on some days?) to feel right at home. No one will demand to know what he or she is fed up with…
The Tea Party movement has been compared (by David Brooks of The New York Times, among others) to the student protest movement of the 1960s. Even though one came from the left and the other from the right, both are/were, or at least styled themselves as, a mass challenge to an oppressive establishment. That’s a similarity, to be sure. But the differences seem more illuminating.
First, the 1960s (shorthand for all of the political and social developments we associate with that period) were by, for, and about young people. The Tea Party movement is by, for, and about middle-aged and old people (undoubtedly including more than a few who were part of the earlier movement too). If young people discover a cause and become a bit overwrought or monomaniacal, that’s easily forgiven as part of the charm of youth. When adults of middle age and older throw tantrums and hold their breath until they turn blue, it’s less charming…
Some people think that what unites the Tea Party Patriots is simple racism. I doubt that. But the Tea Party movement is not the solution to what ails America. It is an illustration of what ails America. Not because it is right-wing or because it is sometimes susceptible to crazed conspiracy theories, and not because of racism, but because of the movement’s self-indulgent premise that none of our challenges and difficulties are our own fault.
“I like what they’re saying. It’s common sense,” a random man-in-the-crowd told a Los Angeles Times reporter at a big Tea Party rally. Then he added, “They’ve got to focus on issues like keeping jobs here and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.” These, of course, are projects that can be conducted only by Big Government. If the Tea Party Patriots ever developed a coherent platform or agenda, they would lose half their supporters.
Principled libertarianism is an interesting and even tempting idea. If we wanted to, we could radically reduce the scope of government—defend the country, give poor people enough money to live decently, and leave it at that. But this isn’t the TPP vision. The TPP vision is that you can keep your Medicare benefits and balance the budget by ending congressional earmarks, and perhaps the National Endowment for the Arts. (quotes above from an essay in The Atlantic magazine)
Jim Wallis points out 5 contentions between Christianity and the Tea Party/Libertarian movement in a recent Sojourners online post:
- The Libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the pre-eminent Christian virtue.
- An anti-government ideology just isn’t biblical.
- The Libertarians’ supreme confidence in the market is not consistent with a biblical view of human nature and sin.
- The Libertarian preference for the strong over the weak is decidedly un-Christian.
- There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white.
What are your thoughts on this movement?
Former Alaskan Governor and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has been the primary topic of discussion (courtesy of Mark) in three different posts on Criticism As Inspiration thus far:
- Palin Derangement Syndrome (12 November 2008)
- Palin – In Reflection (6 February 2009)
- Goodbye Palin (10 July 2009)
I remained rather silent (for the most part) regarding my specific views of Sarah Palin. One might assume that because I typically espouse views that lean toward the left to varying degrees that I despise Palin on the grounds that she is a conservative. That is simply not so. Frankly, there are plenty of conservatives that I am far less irritated by. It is not my goal to lay out with great detail why I have this distaste for Palin, but I will mention several specific things, beginning with the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and inspired this post.
Just this week President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Sarah Palin was interviewed by USA Today regarding his acceptance speech. Several news outlets (including USA Today) have expressed shock at Palin’s comment, “I liked what he said.” Unfortunately this comment was quickly overshadowed and devoid of all value with the follow-up comment:
I thumbed through my book quickly this morning to say ‘Wow! That really sounded familiar.’ Because I talked in my book too about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times.
Of course. I must make sure that this is known: my grievance has nothing to do with my negative view of war. I could criticise that (and I do, not only against Palin, but also President Obama), but I must acknowledge the very broad acceptance of ‘Just War Theory’ (which was espoused both in Obama’s acceptance speech and Palin’s comments). The issue that I take with Sarah Palin’s comments revolve around her self-referential statements, which have become extremely familiar. Ever since she emerged onto the national political scene and into public’s eye it seems as if she has been shamelessly selling herself – and it’s getting really old. Palin went on to say that President Obama should behave more like President George W. Bush.
We have to stop those terrorists over there…We’ve learned our lesson from 9/11. George Bush did a great job of reminding Americans every single day that he was in office what that lesson is. And, by the way, I’d like to see President Obama follow more closely in the footsteps of George Bush and [Bush’s] passion keeping the homeland safe, his passion for respecting – honoring our troops.
I can hand the benefit of the doubt to Palin and assume that this interview was rather off-handed, but could she please use slightly more sophisticated language when speaking about such serious issues (“those terrorists over there…”). She speaks so vaguely. What lesson did American learn from 9/11 and how did President Bush do a “great job of reminding Americans [of that lesson] every single day that he was in office”? I am not necessarily disagreeing with her statement, but I want to know what she means. I suspect (as evidenced from her interviews and writing) that she doesn’t mean anything, it’s simply her default: empty rhetoric. Also, how does President Obama fall short of Bush’s supposed passion for “keeping the homeland safe,” and “for respecting – honoring our troops.”? Once again, maybe he does fall short (though I doubt one could really make a case for that), but how? Sarah Palin is not here to answer these questions (though Mrs Palin, if you’re reading, please feel free to enlighten us with responses), so I’ll move onto another recent irritation…
In a radio interview last week Palin was commenting on the recent news that former Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used poor judgment nearly a decade ago in his granting of clemency to a convict who went on to murder four police officers. Palin commented,
It was a bad decision obviously, but my heart goes out to Huckabee. I love him, and I feel bad for him to be in this position. But I feel even worse for the victim’s families in this situation. I do feel bad for Huckabee, but it was a horrible decision he made.
Way to stab Huckabee in the back while giving him a hug? In typical Palin fashion she went on to make sure that the listeners knew that during her gubernatorial service she never once pardoned or granted clemency to prisoners.
I don’t have a whole lot of mercy for the bad guys, I’m on the good guys’ side.
It’s strange for Palin to compare her two-and-a-half year service as governor Alaska to Mike Huckabee’s 10+ year service as governor of a state with more than four times as many people as Alaska. But strangeness aside, she did it and will continue to make statements like it. Also, it’s good to know that Sarah Palin is on the “good guys’ side.” We need more of the Bush-era absolutist ‘good vs. evil’ talk. I am not denying the existence of absolute goods and evils – they most certainly exist. What I am saying is that one ought to exercise a little caution and humility when placing other people (and even ourselves) into those two categories.
In the same interview Palin was asked about her political future. She didn’t rule out the possibility of running as an independent in the 2012 election, stating,
That depends on how things go in the next couple of years…There are enough Republicans who are realizing, ‘Oh whoops, some of us liberal Republicans have screwed up.’ And I’m not including myself in that group, but some liberal Republicans have screwed up. If the Republican Party gets back to that base, I think our party is going to be stronger and there’s not going to be a need for a third party, but I’ll play that by ear in these coming months, coming years.
Once again, Palin barrages the interviewer with folksy, inarticulate language, vague statements and self-referential moral absolutism (“I’m not including myself in that group, but some liberal Republicans have screwed up…”). How have “liberal Republicans screwed up,” and what does it mean for the Republican Party to get “back to that base.”?
I’m not suggesting that Sarah Palin thinks that she is perfect, but she is trying really hard to sell herself as such – morally unscathed, fighting tirelessly for the average American! When President Reagan didn’t have an answer he would respond with humility, yet confident in the conservative principles that he embodied. Like him or not, Reagan was true to his well-established core values. Palin is a very different story. The self-referential image she so desperately seeks to sell (her vastly [and terrifyingly] popular memoir is called Going Rogue – how many ‘rogues’ do you know and how many of them are self-professing rogues?) seems pathetic and empty.
It was one year ago today that Barack Obama won the election for the office of the President of the United States. When he took office in January of this year, President Obama held a nearly 70% approval rating according to the Gallup poll. As we can observe from the chart below, that approval has drastically shifted:
So why the shift? Esquire writer John Richardson explains what he considers to be the “Problem With America Today.”
My inspiration was the recent one-year-later cover of Newsweek, which encapsulates the current conventional wisdom about President Obama in a single headline: YES HE CAN (BUT HE SURE HASN’T YET). Or, as Saturday Night Live put it, President Obama’s two biggest accomplishments thus far are “Jack and Squat.” You can find other versions of this perspective from Matt Lauer and David Gregory on NBC, from thousands of obnoxious bloggers, even from the hapless governor of New York.
Here’s the conventional wisdom in a single paragraph: Three hundred and sixty-four days after he was elected president, Obama is still stuck in Iraq, hasn’t closed Guantánamo, is getting deeper into Afghanistan, hasn’t accomplished health-care reform or slowed the rise in unemployment. His promises of bipartisanship are a punch line (see above). And there’s still no peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What a failure! What a splash of cold water in the face of all our bold hopes!
He’s being facetious and he follows it up with declaring that the conventional wisdom is “insane.” Why? Check Richardson’s record on Obama’s first ten months in office for yourself here.
There will most certainly be both many praises and many criticisms floating about regarding the bestowal of this honor upon the young American President, but I really must say that my first reaction was overwhelming joy. Why? I simply believe that while standing up for what he believes America needs, President Obama still retains a considerable amount of respect from the rest of the world (or at least from those who vote for the Nobel Prize).
Once again, I am working from the assumption that two-way communication with the rest of the world is a positive thing. From my view I would say that President Obama is not bowing down to the demands of the ‘enemies‘ of America (part of the reason for his winning of the Nobel Prize is the fact that he has really amped up calls for nuclear disarmament and human rights).
Still, while I am filled with joy, I wonder how the President of the United States could have won this award after only being President for roughly eight months (let me also add that the nomination proceedings for the Nobel Prize took place before he had even been in office for one full month). [But let’s not also forget that one need not be a President to be awarded a Nobel Prize, i.e. he could have received it (in theory) even if he had not won the election.] And in the back of my head is the thought that perhaps President Obama simply looks so much more attractive to the rest of the world in contrast to the administration that he followed…
Either way, I hope that people won’t get nasty about this award: Obama didn’t ask for it. This is meant to be a gift from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to someone who has contributed significantly to the cause of peace. I think it would be difficult to defend the belief that President Obama has yet to actually impact the global political climate/landscape. Even North Korea is changing its tune (for now).
Whether or not the world is unanimous in approval of President Obama’s receipt of this award, we can all agree that a world where peace flourishes is a good goal; may we hope and pray that President Obama would continually make decisions that point the way (in as much as one man can) to that goal.
A section of Hugo Chávez’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly was posted on BBC News online last night. I took the courtesy of transcribing this portion of the speech:
John Kennedy said, ‘In the south there is a revolution and the main reason is hunger.’ Only a few days later he was assassinated. John Kennedy was not a revolutionary, but he was an intelligent man, just as I think President Obama is an intelligent man. And I hope God will protect Obama from the bullets that killed Kennedy. I hope Obama will be able to look and see-genuinely see-what has to be seen, and bring about a change. It doesn’t smell of sulfur anymore. I doesn’t smell of sulfur, it’s gone. No, it smells of something else. It smells of hope. And you have to have hope in your heart and lend your strength to the hope.
Chávez and his rule of Venezuela can be characterized as many things, but I find it intereting to analyze his view of the United States. In 2006, the last time he spoke at the UN General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush “the devil.” Now he declares that the smell of sulfur is gone and has been replaced with hope. We could debate what seem to be his views regarding a link between the assassination of President Kennedy and Kennedy’s stance on South America, but I find his great optimism regarding the presidency of Barack Obama a great opportunity to heal relations with Venezuela and if America so demands it, to exercise some suggestive influence to change certain ways that some Americans might have an aversion toward him and his policies (specifically characterizing Chávez as a threat to capitalism I mean democracy in South America).
Still, some Americans can percieve any interaction with our “enemies” a great threat to national security, and anything divergent from the stagnant animosity America has experienced between itself and a significant portion of this wicked world during the virtuous presidency of George W. Bush ought to be shuned. Why can’t America talk with these countries? Why must America set a tone in foreign policy based on closed conditions and global superiority? ◊
Whichever side of the political/economic spectrum we’re on, we can probably agree with a sizable majority that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is incredibly odd.◊ But I admit that I am rather ignorant when it comes to the scientific study of foreign policy. I don’t like to be at odds with fiscal conservatives, I simply find that more often than not, I am. I don’t take my views from this philosopher or that philosopher, but I tend to try to see things through a particular grid, one essentially based on restored relationships between humankind & God, humankind & itself, and humankind & nature. I am certain that there are ways in which I am totally wrong, but my desire is not to push socialism, capitalism, nor any other -ism, nor is my desire to pledge allegiance to this political party or that political party. I simply try to view this world as something that was created wisely, broken tragically, and will be redeemed thoroughly via the agenda of one greater than any president or king in this world.
I’m surprised that our blog hasn’t featured much (if any) discussion regarding the current troubles in Gaza (though we are being assured of a ceasefire by Israeli leadership). I have rather strong views in opposition to the many of the actions of Israel (both presently and in the past), but I understand that as a group of people the Israelis desire a place to call their own (understandably so) and many of their surrounding countries would have them stripped of self-governance (if not even wiped out entirely). I am certain that great deal of heated discussion would follow if I listed out my criticisms both of Israel and the various Palestinian groups who oppose them, but in this time of intense suffering I desire to write a prayer—something we’ve yet to do on this blog—and I hope it is not out of bounds.
God, the holy creator and sustainer of all things in this universe, we ask that you would exercise your will, particularly with regard to peace and the preservation of life on this planet. We know that the tensions of war and strife are part of our lot as a result of disobedience, but we also know that you are abounding in grace and love. Please guide the leadership of these conflicting peoples and—though this seems a near impossible task given the state of affairs in the Middle East—provide a lasting peace. As a result of this current crisis we ask that you would please heal those who have been injured, provide shelter for those who have been displaced, and provide comfort for those who have lost their loved ones. We boldly ask that this world would be transformed by the immense power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Use us to pray and provide practical assistance in this situation. Give us wisdom to see where we can work for your kingdom. In all of these things may you be glorified. Amen.
Who neither believes that war is tragic nor peace beautiful?
This is my [hopefully not too] awkward first post. While I’d like to write about the Gospel or something more strictly theological (since politics have been invading every facet of American existence for the past 21 months…maybe with the exception of the rural South), I am choosing to write about the current American President, George W. Bush.
Comedic persona Neil Hamburger (one of the most inappropriate comedians I’ve ever heard) once told a joke during a stand-up routine that went about like this:
“Hey, is it just me? Is it just me or is George Bush the worst president in the history of the United States, huh, am I right?” The anti-Bush crowd during this routine–not unlike the national crowd, which according to at least one poll is composed of 70% of Americans–cheered at this rhetorical question. Hamburger continued,
“Which makes it all the harder to understand why his son, George W. Bush, is in fact the best president we’ve ever had.” This punchline was followed by a wave of “boos” from the displeased crowd.
It seems possible that we live in a “post-Bush” culture, one that ignores the fact that he exists or at least looks forward to the day when he will cease to. Though I would not consider myself as a “fan” of Bush’s presidency to nearly any extent, I find it perplexing that our culture is so infatuated with hating him. Perhaps we don’t realize that Bush is ten years younger than John McCain, which means that we potentially have another decade or more of President Bush in the public eye.
He’s a truly fascinating person. If you’ve not seen Oliver Stone’s W., I suggest you do. It’s a well-crafted caricature of Bush’s adult life and the various people who have surrounded him. I left the theater with a far more empathetic attitude toward the man, who is portrayed as a simple guy who was caught up in a wave of dirty politics. The guilt of the Bush Administration is really shifted toward Dick Cheney in the film. Maybe I’ll post something about how impressive the film was, especially for a film that only took half-a-year to shoot, edit, and release.
But in addition to the empathy I gained toward President Bush, I was also filled with a sense of mourning; mourning for a man who has been painted as a villain in our culture by not-as-much-fault-as-America-thinks of his own. He is already among the deceased presidents of our generation–Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan–yet has been painted with more dishonor than Herbert Hoover. He’s still in office until January, yet we replaced him with an over-publicized bout for the seat of the 44th President of the United States nearly two years ago.
Any conclusion or resolution? Maybe we ought to not view those in the public’s eye as demigods. Maybe we ought to not expect our political leaders, nor any other person, to make the perfect decision every time. Maybe we ought to demonstrate a little grace toward those who we label as unlovable. As I’ve said, I’m no fan of George W. Bush as the Commander-in-Chief, but I’m fairly certain that he did what he believed was best for America most (if not all) of the time.