Several years ago Cheryl and I were expressing our disparate, informed opinions with fervor when she blurted out “Do you know what your problem is?” To which I responded, “I think I do, but why don’t you tell me anyway.”
“Your problem is you can’t stand to be wrong; you just enjoy being right too much.”
I smiled and she continued, “What are you smirking about?”
I chuckled and said, “I guess you’re right. I have to admit I have never taken pleasure in being wrong.” She laughed and we found common ground.
Two years ago I made some political projections and for the most part I wasn’t wrong. I will list here some of my more general prognostications and save ones specific to Obama for another entry.
On November 5, 2008 I predicted the following:
1. “In terms of healthcare, he (Obama) will get most of what he wants but the debates will heat up. All of this will prolong the economic downturn, although there will probably be a short-lived upturn from now through the first six months of his Presidency. Unemployment will increase.” He got what he wanted and the debates did get heated. The economic downturn continues and unemployment remains very high.
2. “The roll of minorities in American politics has been forever changed for the good. The days of the Caucasian, good-old-boys-club-in-power is over. Minorities will rise in leadership in both parties but especially conservatives in the Republican Party. – Perhaps some delusional wishful thinking here. The Parties will become more ideologically defined and stress ethnic coalitions with a greater social purpose.” Let’s think: head of GOP is now an African American, newly elected GOP governor of South Carolina is Asian Indian and a woman to boot, and the new GOP Senator from Florida is Cuban American, need I go on? How do you spell conservative ideology – TEA PARTY.
3. “The world will not come to an end on January 20, 2009. Conservatism is not dead.” No comment needed. “Sarah Palin will not vanish into the polar night…” I got a little too specific and suggested she would become a Senator but I think I deserve a win on this one.
On the next day (11/6/2010) I wrote about the useless promise of unity.
“If “change” was the central theme of Barak Obama’s campaign for the Presidency, “unity” was the ubiquitous corollary. He promised to unite us in solving the pressing problems of our time and to not allow ideology to divide us. This is a noble objective, but one that is doomed to failure. It is the same promise George Bush made (“I’m a uniter, not a divider”), and look how that turned out.
The promise will fail for various reasons. First, when Obama made it he seemed to always imply it was the political right that is bound by ideology and obstructing progress. He is a liberal on the far left of the spectrum and we are a nation where the majority define themselves as conservative and between the blue dog Democrats and the Republicans conservatives comprise the majority of Congress. He will have to move far toward the middle on social and economic issues if he hopes to be a lasting unifying force in America (I perceive him to already be in the middle on national security).
Second, while the process of shared problem solving is unifying, it works as a tool for unity only when (1) there is a shared agreement about the reality and nature of the problem, (2) there is a shared agreement on the priority of the problem, and (3) all parties believe their voice will be heard and respected. Ideology is a direct mitigating force in the first two factors and an indirect one in the third.
In short, ideology is nothing more than a systematized expression of values. We can set aside our ideology (i.e., liberalism vs. conservatism) only to the extent that we unite around a greater shared ideology, values that are threatened (i.e., liberty, justice, democracy). In situations other than grave crises it is our ideological differences that clarify our desires and the values that guide civilization. In a democracy we need healthy disagreement (disunity) in order to move forward with the best policies for all. These differences often serve not only to help us choose a direction, but to first recognize the need to move in any direction. They provide the energy for change and sometimes they save us from great error.
It is incredibly difficult to come to agreement on what the real problems are and what priority they should have, not to mention how to solve them without violating someone’s core values. It does not serve us well to view the minority voice as obstructionist and yet democracy is prewired to view them exactly that way. We can come together only to the extent we agree to honor each other by respecting our opposing views at least enough to give them serious consideration. When victory overshadows understanding we are destined to run ruff shod over the minority. It is not our differences nor their intensity, but what we do with them that divide us. This then becomes the Achilles’ heel for any President; time and passion stand in the way of considered listening and shared problem solving.
Let us choose to hope that Barak Obama is that rarest of politicians, one who will value everyone (specifically in Congress) enough to give them voice not only in how to solve our problems, but in the identification and prioritization of the problems. He seems to have the disposition for such listening.
Finally, he will fail because it will be out of his hands. The major problems of this country require Congressional action. It is the leaders and members of Congress who must learn to listen intently and with respect to each other. They must come to agree on the existence, nature and priority of our problems. And they must learn to do this with many of them having already established extreme dislike for each other. No matter how well intentioned and capable, this task is beyond any President’s ability. They all promise it; they all fail; so why do we fall for it? Perhaps it is reflective of the image of God that we continue to hope for unity. Surely it is the fruit of sin that we fight over our disagreements. Let us hope this will be that season of politicians learning to work together. Let us hope I am wrong in my pessimism.”
The one thing I missed here (and it is big) was my suspicion Obama has “a disposition” for listening. He has proven the opposite to be true. His concept of compromise can be summed up “I won; you will do it my way.”
For the most part, I was right, but I’m not smiling.
November 2, 2010