Saturday, March 22, 2008

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.

Jeff Jarvis, in his wonderful Buzz Machine blog has recently posted some interesting and provocative viewpoints. His post on the future of government online is an intelligent and worthwhile read. But it was Friday's post on Obama's speech on race and religion that inspired me to leave a response. Jeff posits that he might be the single person not worshipful of Obama's speech, which he finds more, rather than less divisive. I'm not sure that I agree with his perception, but I love the number of responses he's gotten and the conversation it's sparked. His characterization of Obama fans as "worshipful", however, struck me as right on the money. Coming from German Jewish stock, my unease in the face of fanatical adoration of political figures might be genetic. Or maybe I prefer my heros slightly imperfect, just like me. In any case, my response to Jeff was as follows:

"Jeff, you certainly struck a chord, proving racial, religious, and ethnic bigotry are still extremely hot buttons in this country. It is great to see how many people responded and how the threads of discussion are evolving. Not to sound too Pollyana-ish, but I think anything that forces discourse on this 800 pound gorilla, which is our country’s dirty little secret, can’t be all bad.

That said, I think your choice of words in the very first sentence, “worshipful”, is the thing that makes me uneasy about this man. He should represent everything I’m looking for in a presidential candidate, he’s smart, insightful, engaging, articulate, moral, and charismatic. But instead, I find the aura of worship that has materialized around him, this “cult of Obama”, to be sort of scary. There seems to be an appetite among Democrats to anoint a saviour. To find someone who will weave such a dazzling vision of peace and stability and unity that, like desert wanderers dying of thirst, we will flock to him to drink the KoolAid. And anyone (including other Democrats) who challenges this saviour is a spoiler who must be stopped. I would like to think that both Democratic candidates have strengths that should be carefully and reasonably evaluated as we make decisions. I would prefer not to have a preference for Hilary be considered heretical."

For sixteen years we have been fed escalating and damaging infusions of divisive partisanship. Nuanced and objective democratic conversation is being trounced by the neo-religious pronouncement "You're either with us or against us." Really? Are those my only choices? Have politics in the U.S. become so polarized that there is only one right answer and disagreement is synonymous with treason? I hope not.

The brilliant cartoonist, Walt Kelly, from whom I "borrowed" the title of this blog, has expressed this more eloquently than I ever could:

"Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle."

"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us."


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