I haven’t watched this much television since I was in grade school. I became glued to the DNC coverage this week, both televised and on the net. Of course, commentary about the proceedings abounded, from convention pundits and participants to bloggers on the scene and those watching from a distance. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear and read what folks had to say.
The convention was filled with inspiring words and actions (both inside and outside the convention halls), and last night’s event, open to the public and held in the open air on the very anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, was exceptionally moving and celebratory.
I appreciated hearing the concrete statements of concern and intent made by both Al Gore and Barack Obama in their cogent presentations. Here are some reflections:
Last night and throughout the convention, great emphasis was placed on the issue of parenting, particularly on the role of the father in the family. From Michelle Obama’s early reference to the strength of her own father’s influence on her life, to Barack Obama’s eagerness to be the kind of father that he didn’t have, to Joe Biden’s significant role as single dad to his sons when his wife and daughter were tragically killed … All these seemed to culminate in statements Barack Obama made last night, to great applause, when he stressed that the change Americans want will take more than money; change will require more responsibility from each of us, especially in the areas of resource conservation and parenting. “Individual and mutual responsibility,” he said. “That’s the essence of America’s promise.”
After 8 years of the Bush Administration’s distinct lack of empathy in policy-making, I felt a huge sense of relief hearing a statesman stress that “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper,” without contradicting the essence of the American ideal of self-determination and personal freedom of choice. From his vantage point as a father and as a lawmaker and civil rights and women’s rights advocate, Obama repeated that “America’s promise” is the right for all children to become what they want to become, but not as isolated individuals, rather as valued parts of a whole that is interconnected and interdependent.
The bedrock amalgam of freedom and empathy is what underlies Obama’s platform planks – equal rights to quality education and health care, shared efforts in becoming conservation-minded and energy independent, equal pay for equal work, the rights of workers to organize, and economic policies that support rather than undermine family life.
Precisely because of my agreement with these value-based policies, I disagree with several of Obama’s stated goals regarding national security and foreign relations. My concerns are these:
· Obama’s inclination to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan pursues a “more of the same” agenda that hasn’t succeeded in the “war on terror” either there or in Iraq. Afghanistan is even more difficult in terms of terrain and cultural difference than Iraq, and so far, US military operations in Afghanistan have proven more harmful than helpful to the people there. Regular reports of civilian casualties from US weapons, a burgeoning opium trade and the growing influence of warlords and religious extremism has occurred under US occupation, and it would seem to repeat the Bush Administration’s stubborn tendency to address a problem by doing more of what isn’t working. As an alternative approach, I think answers lie in exactly what Obama prescribes for our own country: bolstering equal access to education and basic family necessities. Along the lines of what Greg Mortenson (“Three Cups of Tea”) has been doing with school projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, assistance in the area of education would do much more than military force to not only improve living conditions, but to heal relations and remove underlying motives for terrorism.
· No mention was made by Barack Obama last night or by any leading party statesperson during the entire convention, as far as I could tell, of the huge problem of the privatization of the US military. Comprising approximately equal numbers as US military personnel in Iraq, privately contracted mercenary and military support workers have undermined US relations with Iraq, have proven nearly impossible to hold accountable, have been extremely costly and have only provoked, in my opinion, further terrorism. What does an Obama/Biden administration plan to do about the rise of the outsourced army?
· Last night, Barack Obama condoned the notion of “taking out” Osama bin Laden. Assassination is incompatible with US Constitutional and thus international law. This kind of “tough talk” is exactly the kind of Bush Administration rhetoric that we must move away from, not emulate. It’s also exactly the kind of rhetoric that has escalated the “war on terror” and has led to the general demonization of whole groups of people – which is completely counter to the direction a new civil rights-minded administration would want to go. Osama bin Laden can be apprehended – alive – and charged and tried in accordance with international law – something the Bush Administration could have pursued 7 years ago, but chose a path motivated by opportunism instead.
· Obama promised to go through the federal budget “line by line” to cut excess spending and free up money to bolster the education and health care insurance plans he supports. But, the biggest black hole for federal funds has been war spending. Stop funding war and money will be there for the programs we need.
· War is not green. This was a primary message of those who marched and demonstrated outside the convention in Denver (and who plan to do the same in Minnesota this week). It’s a serious point that is not being made by Al Gore or others in the Obama/Biden campaign. War and war preparation cause great environmental degradation, both in the US and abroad. The US military, no matter how much one might support its missions, must be acknowledged as one of the top polluters in the world. Every decision to use military force rather than diplomacy must take this environmental cost into consideration.
I am enthusiastic about Barack Obama’s general emphasis on reaching out to other government leaders (such as Iran’s) and his tendency to seek dialogue, compromise and common ground. I’m also buoyed by his insistence on fundamental equality, both as a matter of belief and also as a function of his own background and heritage. He could bring this same guiding principle of equality to decisions regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and other potential centers of conflict.
That is, the principle of equality necessarily extends to all persons, everywhere in the world, not only Americans. We may have an exceptional form of government, but we do not have an exceptional right to life. Every human life is of equal value. Every child in the world deserves the opportunity to live a meaningful life. This truth, that Obama has expressed so eloquently, must guide US foreign policy as equally as it guides domestic policy. As Bill Clinton said in his address to the convention, “The power of example is more important than the example of power.”
I like the example we have seen so far in the ways Barack Obama and Joe Biden have led their own lives as integrated family men and committed public servants. I wholeheartedly agree with the emphasis on the mix of individual and mutual responsibility that is being discussed in this campaign. In fact, balancing our lives as individuals and also as members of communities is part of the global human condition. We can take this opportunity to teach by example in the world, to be willing to admit our mistakes and to learn from our global neighbors whose earth, air, water and sun we share. Equality is a truth we can choose to live. Yes, we can.