Saturday, September 27, 2008

What I wish Obama had said last night, and why.

John, I'm so glad you've given me the opportunity to elaborate on what I meant when I said I'd talk to Iran with no preconditions. What I was trying to get at was I think we need to try to find a way to get out of the vicious circle of belligerence we've been caught up in the last eight years. Belligerence breeds belligerence, in foreign affairs and in presidential campaigns. I'm doing my best to avoid belligerence between us, and I can see how its not easy. Of course, its understandable that when we're threatened, or when ourselves or our loved ones are hurt or killed, we want to attack. Sometimes its justified too. But we need to avoid knee-jerk belligerence, we need to be able to think, to be smart, about our reactions to provocation. If we react impulsively, we're often playing into our adversaries hands. That's a big part of how we got into Iraq after 9/11, and why we're now more hated around the world than ever before, and how we squandered the good will we had after 9/11. We were overwhelmed with anger and sorrow, and we didn't make enough space to think so we could be smart as well.
When I said talks should be without preconditions, I should have said that the only precondition is that all parties to the talks commit themselves to listening to the others carefully and with respect. That doesn't mean accepting everything the others say. Threatening to wipe anybody off the face of the earth means complete lack of respect, and my preconditions would rule that out.
And, Jim, when you asked what I would cut to fund the 700 billion dollars that might be committed in the financial "rescue", of course I can't be too specific right now, but let me say this: we're going to have to give up the fantasy of the "new American century" in which we aim to establish supreme power over the whole world. Its unmanageably expensive to be the supreme power of the whole world, not to mention impossible except in video games. We need to find a way to have moral leadership in the world without being infinitely powerful, and, believe me, its a lot less expensive to exert moral leadership than it is to have supreme power.

Why do I wish Obama had said these things, aside from the fact that I wish he agreed with everything I believe? Because I think he's not naturally a belligerent person, but he seems to have felt he had to compete with McCain to sound tough. Since that's not his strength nor his inclination, he sounded lame, to my ears. But his thoughtfulness should have sounded like strength, not of the belligerent kind, but of the intelligent and smart kind. That would have come from speaking from his heart, as he said things that were true to what he feels and believes. Are the majority of the American people ready to hear that there's no bright line between evil and good in the world ,with us on the good side, and that unlimited power doesn't flow from being good and tough? Can the American people hear that we have a better chance of being a force for good in the world if we're ready to acknowledge our mistakes and have some humility? I don't know, but I wish they were presented with a good and strong case (perhaps citing the bible) to think about.


Neil Altman's blog said...

From Susan Bodnar
I think it is important for all liberals to refrain from too much critique of how Obama is handling himself. There is so much going on in this election and none of us fully understand the entirety of it. It is very rough. My sense is that Obama is being very careful of provoking the anxiety of the right, and others who disagree with him because it will provoke a smear attack ad campaign. This close to the lection there is less chance for damage control. I think he needs to simply skim to the presidency by using language that reassures and welcomes independents to his candidacy. Not everyone agrees with how liberals see things, even if we know ourselves to be correct, and unless Obama courts the middle and those who differ from the left we will have a repeat of 2000, and 2004 and we will be back to red state/ blue state ----- and that means a McCain victory because there are more electoral votes in the red state category.

This might be a time when we have to trust.

Bob's Blog said...

I agree with Susan. The remarkable thing about Obama is that he has really been able to maintain his center of balance, even with enormous pressures on him to do this or do that or say this or say that. If Gore or Kerry had known who they were and stuck to their true selves maybe all this could have been avoided. Try to relax back into the saddle and hope that this horse knows how to run...

Neil Altman's blog said...

Dear Susan and Bob,
Thank you for your responses. My sense is that Obama's carefulness is a defensive response that grants the right wing the power to define the terms of the conversation. I don't deny that if Obama said more forcefully what he really would like to say (assuming I know what he would like to say, as opposed to what I would like him to say) that it wouldn't be spun by the right wing in a way that would work against his candidacy. However, I do think there's a chance that some of the right wing's power derives from their sense of conviction. I wish we could trust that if we countered with an equal sense of conviction about peace and social justice that we could inspire people at least as well. When we adopt a defensive, even defeatist, position, we open ourselves up to attack and ridicule. I think the best way to counter that is to draw on the power that comes from speaking from our hearts.