As I was watching the Nobel acceptance speech delivered by President Obama. Two thoughts crashed into my brain.
First, Obama is a better, smarter and wiser person than me and perhaps than most of us.
Second, he is certainly brighter than all his critics combined.
If you haven’t watched the speech please do! You can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/opinion/11fri1.html?ref=opinion
The Odds Facing Our President
I think of our President as “The Professor.” And you know how our culture rewards its best teachers! I think of Obama as a prophet. And you know what happens to prophets! I think of Obama as a good and righteous person. And you know what the reward for unselfish goodness is!
Obama is a quality individual leading a nation that is wallowing in trash. From the left he faces a barrage of half-baked idealism and smart-ass impatience. From the right he faces outright hate and willful ignorance.
Who Stands Up For Our President?
Who will stand up for this man who is quite obviously the best and most moral leader in politics today – here or anywhere in the world? If not Americans with a sense of proportion and history then who will facilitate the success of the Obama presidency?
Does this mean that I think Obama is perfect or above criticism? No. But look around. He’s the best we have or have had in our lifetimes. And there is a time and place for making a critique. This isn’t the time or place to rearrange the furniture. Our house is on fire.
America is fighting for its life; from the economy to Afghanistan, from a failed educational system to a failed public transport sector, from global warming to a continuing struggle for jobs. There are times when loyalty, trust and faith in our leader actually makes sense. This is that time.
Faith in Obama is not a blind faith. In his first year in office he is starting to stack up real accomplishments against all odds. But there is a long way to go.
My frustration is that I have no idea how to express my support for the President. Maybe there are others who share my strong feeling that the Obama presidency is our last best shot to get it right on so many issues, from justice to education, from spiritual values, to how and where we wage war.
Do Obama’s Critics Ever Stop to Ask Themselves What the Alternative Is?
The glib sound bite culture, the short attention spans, the impatience, the sophomoric immaturity of our nation, which Obama is trying to lead, is so evident in how cavalier Obama’s critics are. If Obama’s critics succeed (knowingly or unknowingly) in contributing to an Obama failure what’s next?
From the right come the false claims that Obama is driving our country to “socialism” or “communism.” And that’s the more “reasonable” of the crazy right’s lies! That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rube Republican’s lies – that he’s the “Anti-Christ,” “not born in America”, on and on. In a pre-media age, pre-Fox News, pre-Rupert Murdoch age before fools were given megaphones and a national stage the impact of the outright nut cases and their “ideas” would be negligible. No more.
And from the left, what do we get? We get formerly promising websites that were once boldly claiming they’d soon replace traditional newspapers as sources of news now wallowing in tits and ass trash, celebrity gossip and “commentary” by such “thinkers” as critics who can’t get past punch line sneering at the real and complicated world. To such Obama critics, their impatience is the key to their restless lack of steady support for our president. They wanted change and they wanted it -- now! They wanted Obama to be Jesus and “fix” everything -- now! They wanted his presidency to feel like election night euphoria forever. They can’t stand the real sausage-making process of actual governance.
Meanwhile in the real world President Obama is trying to repair the damage done to America (and the planet) by George W. Bush; arguably the worst president in American history. Obama is also trying to lead an American public that has been failed by the right and the left and nowhere more glaringly than in the public’s lack of education. Obama leads a nation that, somewhere along the line, has lost its common sense too.
Which brings up a fatful point: President Obama is smart and a huge chunk of America is woefully (even gleefully!) dumb. Can an extra-bright president lead an essentially uneducated, worse, an anti-education country?
I don’t know.
I do know that the greatest threat to our national security is found in the textbook convergence of all that’s most wrong about the American left and the American right: education.
Saving Education: the Ultimate Presidential Test
On the right... we have Americans who don’t even believe in public schools and who have conducted a war against them, from their home school movement, to the “Christian” school movement, to their de-funding of any program they can de-fund on the weird anti-communitarian "principle" that all government is bad. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the anti-education “values” preached by fundamentalist Christians (Palin’s “Real Americans” who fear learning and sophistication) who are anti-science and anti-art and anti-facts and in favor of an evangelical mythology that ranges from creationism to lies about gays. (One lie: gays are choosing to be gay and are able to be “healed” and or “cured” of gayness if they would only love Jesus enough!)
On the left... we have a movement disgustingly co-opted by and in bed with, the teacher’s union. This union seems to come from some educational hell defined by its defense of -- and commitment to – mind-numbing mediocrity. And we have teacher training colleges that have churned out teachers “trained” in psychobabble yet who can barely speak the English language and are – like many Americans – a bland mix of anti-knowledge mediocrity, wherein everything is reduced to work sheets, books are replaced with computers on every desk (and other distractions welling from the heart of our entertainment-besotted “culture”) distracting students from the real business of education: the molding of human beings into creatures who love learning for its own sake because it’s beautiful.
One of the great things about President Obama is that he is serious about educational reform. But as with the rest of his agenda he seems to me to be more and more like that proverbial Dutch boy in the old story about the boy who stands alone with his finger plugging the leak in the sea wall while protecting a sleeping and blissfully unaware population.
The Question Is: Where are the President’s Reinforcements?
With the left and right united in their sniping at the President – though from differing angles – where is the America that cares about our future enough to speak up for him and thus for ourselves?
Americans that have the sense to understand just what is so great about Obama – say those of us that listened to what he said when accepting the Nobel and “get” it – need to be heard from. Who are we? We’re Americans that believe in maintaining and creating public spaces. We're people not too proud to follow the man we voted for loyally until such time as he's had a chance to give it his best.
We understand the value of community. We understand the unusual moment we’re in, when we are -- at last and maybe for the last time in the foreseeable future – being led by a great man who brings realism and idealism to his task in equal measure in everything from foreign policy to health care reform.
If we blow this chance we have only ourselves to blame for a very bleak future.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).
His previous articles at The BRAD BLOG can be read here...