Thursday, December 25, 2008


There are complaints in the air (see my last post and the comments on it) that Obama is being too cautious, too inclusive, too tolerant and even dependent on persons whose views differ from his or from many of us who supported him.

As I have said before and will I'm sure say many times in the course of the coming months and years, Obama obviously has learned from the mistakes of the Carter and Clinton administrations (let alone the Reagan and Bushes) that in order to change some of the basic tenets and programs, as well as the direction, of our government and our country, he will need to have a lot of support from disparate interest groups who have influence on Congress and voters.

The Clintons' health plan, or initial policy on gays in the military, were everything their progressive and liberal supporters could have asked for. And they failed, blindsided by coalitions between right-wing, and even some moderate, members of Congress, the media and various powerful interest groups (e.g. health insurance companies).

Carter's energy proposals and aims were equally thwarted by powerful interests and the interests of the powerful, etc.

Reality dictates caution and bridge building and above all pragmatism. This is what Obama and his camp are showing me they are capable of.

Cries that inviting Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation is a slap in the face to gays are understandable, but as Melissa Etheridge says in the Huffington essay I linked to in my last post, there are nuances to this situation that go beyond demands of political purity.

When I was a boy, a skinny white Irish-American boy, in a time and place where a boy of my ethnic background and clan could cause neighborhood civil unrest by dating almost anyone out of his ethnic group, say an Italian, I chose to date an African-American girl.

The grief I got from every side, "blacks" as well as "whites"—terms even then I could see were not only racist but scientifically insupportable—hurt and offended me terribly. I was adamant about how right our cause was in the face of bigotry, official and otherwise.

Many of those I was upset with were loved ones, family and friends who had always been close and meant nothing but the best for me. But I turned my back on them because they couldn't totally reject the common beliefs of that time and place, as I was able to do. I had no tolerance for the intolerant.

When I went on to struggle against racism and for Civil Rights, I rejected those who did not share my perspective. But at times bent those objections in the face of obviously well-intentioned but misinformed people I encountered in the service and on the streets and in the music world and among even the bohemians and "Beats" and later "hippies" etc.

When that struggle incorporated the growing anti-Viet Nam war movement, again I had to face the reality that people I knew and loved, from my past, from my family and clan, from among those I served with in the military or later went to college classes with, had truly deep difficulties accepting a position that seemed to go against everything they had been taught and/or experienced.

I began to have some sympathy for their own struggle to get past their backgrounds and educations and personal histories. When people felt overwhelmed by those who insisted any support whatsoever for a government waging an unjust war was evil—meaning you couldn't pay taxes, even sales taxes on cigarettes, etc—I began to understand that there are degrees of commitment and dedication to a cause, and that many who cannot commit on the level I was able to, could still contribute toward the movement for peace in smaller ways.

By the time I joined forces with the emerging womens movement and insisted on the equality of the sexes in every aspect of life, and wrote and spoke and demonstrated and took actions to exemplify that belief, my personal cimmitment to these progressive causes had taken a toll not only on my family but on my creative and personal ambitions.

Then that involvement led me to the budding gay rights movement at the dawning of the 1970s, but I was beginning to understand that the extent of my kind of commitment to a cause was rare, and it was. I "came out" as a political act, not because I had been "in the closet"—since I had always been what society calls "straight"—but because I recognized that we all have, or at least I had, a capacity for more ways of loving others than most of us have been programmed or socialized into believing.

I lost my job as a college teacher, even more members of my family and friends, and a lot more, as a result of my action, which, by the way, very few actual "in the closet" gays were willing to take at the time, including many who were educating me about the evils of anti-gay attitudes and policies but were unwilling to risk losing their own jobs or friends and family, etc.

I pushed my perspective on everyone, sometimes way too much, and as a result lost many who may have been eventually supportive but were turned off by my persistent insistance on my own perspective.

I wanted the world to change immediately, but it didn't. It since has. Look at the election of Obama. But he didn't get ninety percent of the vote, he got just over half. And many many folks in our country didn't even vote. And he faces what has proven to be overwhelming opposition (note the media frenzy over possible conversations between a president-elect's staff with his state's governor, while the actual misdeeds and crimes of the present administration often continue to be overlooed and go unprosecuted, etc.).

Obama impresses me as someone who has thought about all this, learned from the past mistakes of other administrations (not that he won't make his own, he's human and we're talking about reality, something he seems to grasp better than many of his supporters) and is making moves to shore up as much support across the political spectrum as he possibly can so that when he attempts to make the kinds of changes Carter and Clinton couldn't pull off, he will have at least a chance.

So I say, give him a chance to prove himself, and cut your fellow humans some slack. Not everyone is as quick to see the benefits of change as some of us are, and resistance to change is a normal human reaction. But anyone who doubts that it will come, whether in the form they, or we, want, isn't paying attention.


JIm said...

Interesting perspective. I am more inclined to criticize Warren for lending credability to a politician who has supported extreme abortion views.

There is a report out that, the Obama administration would support legalization of marijuana. That could possibly lead to an end to the, "War on Drugs", which I believe would free up the enormous resourcs that we waste to fight a war that can not be won and that provides money to criminals and terrorists. Carter tried it but got slapped down by Republicans. If Obama attempts it, he will have to go gently, as you suggest. I believe the benefit for America and the world would be huge if Obama were to succeed.

JIm said...

Very Interesting.

Obama mansion 'owned'
by Tony Rezko attorney
Lawyer at firm where Democrat
worked receives property tax bill

AlamedaTom said...

I couldn't have said it better.

~ Willy

JIm said...

America, Liberals and Conservatives from a Thoughtful, analytical Leftie, which I find eye opening. -,0,5178459.column

Lefties just don't have the same feeling about America as the hard right does.

Joel Stein (excerpts)
December 26, 2008

I don't love America. That's what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there's no winning.

But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.
Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.

When a Democrat loses the presidential race, real lefties talk a lot about moving to Canada. When Republicans lose, they don't do that. Though, to be fair, they don't have a lot of nearby conservative options. Not even Hannity is a committed enough conservative to yell, "If Obama wins, I'm moving to Singapore."

This doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by American history, impressed by our Constitution or don't appreciate our optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, I love everything Hannity listed on his TV special other than Madonna. But there are plenty of things I don't like about America: our foreign policy, our religious fundamentalism, our provincialism, our intellectual laziness, our acceptance of sweat suits in public.
Despite Beck's rationalization, I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

I wish I felt such certainty. Sure, it makes life less interesting and nuanced, and absolute conviction can lead to dangerous extremism, but I suspect it makes people happier. I'll never experience the joy of Hannity-level patriotism. I'm the type who always wonders if some other idea or place or system is better and I'm missing out. And, as I figured out shortly after meeting my wife, that is no way to love.

Kevin Killian said...

Michael, you have been a hero of mine since the 1970s. Well done!

Lally said...

Thanks Kevin. Your comment means a lot, as does your own writing and activism. Michael