So What?

I like to surf the online versions of newspapers around the world. The opinions and ideas I encounter offer interesting alternatives to those domestically produced. This morning I came across an OpEd piece in The Khaleej Times. It enjoys respect, in its own world (the UAE) very much like the New York Times does in mine.

Because publications usually are extensions of their readership, theirs is one I’d like to hear from more often.  In order to invite that, I built out upon one of the conclusions stated in the article.

That commentary may or may not appear there, so in addition to a link to the article itself, I will also put a copy here on my own site, along with the full text of my commentary. I hope this opens the much needed dialogue. I am sure their readers know a lot more about the USA than I know about UAE. Perhaps both of us will benefit from that dialogue.

Please click on the link above and read that article. Then my commentary below may make sense. If the original article is no longer available of the KT web site, click here for its text.

Respectfully, and all joking aside, I want to respond to ” . . . he (Obama) raised aspiration to phenomenal levels. There was no realistic way he could achieve what he promised.”

The first part of that is true and is referenced in my response only to establish the context needed to explain my opinion of the second part.

The second part is true but irrelevant as a judgement. That judgement misunderstands a basic dynamic of American political history

One of our now-passed policial giants defined politics as “the art of the possible.” Further, all political campaigns in a democracy, for good or bad, are nothing more or less than reflections of the perceived aspirations of the electorate. What a politician in our society will promise is the sum of what his constituents think is needed, as well as which of those aspirations the candidate thinks is worth pushing.

So, in a region where a few fundamentalist religious beliefs are dominant and where narrow thinking based on generations of isolationist self-reinforcement have resulted in populations without world views and lacking secular insights, you have what we call “right wing conservatism.” New ideas and non-traditional solutions do not even have a language in those environments. Opinions and aspirations do not yield to intellectual arguments because they are not based on intellectually discussable structures.

In regions where there is a healthy diversity of religious perceptions, personal, ethnic and political experiences, you have a rich stew of ideas. There is competition for the primacy of aspirations, conflict about the value of those aspirations, argument over how they are to be achieved. From that comes a sincere respect (tolerance, you may call it) for alternative opinions. That’s what we call “liberalism.” Even so, it is only human nature that liberalism too does not yield, once established by experience, to intellectual argument.

But a leader, one who accomplishes much good, only does what he can by raising expectations beyond those limited views of conservatism and liberalism. His or her success is achieved only by what economists call “creative destruction.” Thus we had a Lincoln whose vision resulted in a civil war that involved battles that yielded 50,000 casualties over the course of two or three days. Thus you had a Franklin Roosevelt whom the wealthy considered a traitor to his class but became the champion of the small person and his rights to freedom of religion, speech, work and aspirations.

Neither came even close to their promised goals. Their promises were unrealistic and over-stated. Their promises were what the electorate wanted those men to achieve.

Lincoln only stopped the political breakup of the nation into independent states, half of which had economies based on human slavery. By the time of his assassination (doesn’t that act tell you something about the nature of the conflict) he had only nominally saved the Union and freed the slaves. Millions of their descendants are still living in poverty, poorly educated, crudely housed, with dysfunctional families and dreary prospects. Those failings still harm our society but they are our own failings, not those of Lincoln.

Roosevelt pulled us out of a depression and diverted us from going over the cliff to Communism (at best) or anarchy (more likely). But despite having lead us to victory over the insanities of the Nazis, he still sat silent and made no move to stop the murder of 6 million Jews. In 12 years as president he did nothing to improve health care or education. He still left us a nation with deep social wounds. If you take his speeches as promises, he too over-promised and under-achieved. Again, those are our failings more than they are Roosevelt’s

If a leader leads to the goals the people demand, but a people do not follow, who has failed?

Now we have Obama. Is he in the class of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt? That is yet to be decided. History will judge after he is gone.

But no one can deny that what he has accomplished so far, addresses the unfinished work of his predecessors If, in order to do so, he over-promised, we American have an expression that sums it all up, “So what?”

Thank you and a happy Eid to all of you.

UPDATE: The editor of the Khaleej Times did cut the above op-ed comments from their web site. I guess the alternative points of view quota in praise of something american was full that day. Well, let’s face it. It’s their vehicle and it can only stand a certain amount of contrary pixels before the wheels start to wobble.



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