Sunday, June 27, 2010

Send In The Clowns

I've been traveling around France for the last few weeks, in the company of two lovely friends. I can't really say that there were long stretches of empty road, when the three of us had run out of funny things to say and I could drift off and contemplate life like I used to do when I drove through the silent, hot desert from Phoenix to Los Angeles. But even amidst the lovely distractions - tiny little villages and large fortified cities, châteaux and Roman ruins, delicious lunches and dinners, interesting and strange people, comfy and not-so-comfy B&B beds - I was able to separate myself from my tiny Paris apartment where I tend to hole up and hide from various bogeys - both real and imagined.

Our surroundings can free us or constrict us, but even in the most peaceful places, we can constrict ourselves - if we don't escape once in a while. I guess it's called "gaining perspective."

When it comes to American politics, I've been sorely in need of perspective. During the presidential campaign, the practical side of me resisted falling starry-eyed for the Hope & Change slogans of Obama's candidacy, while my heart wished for those very things. Hope, while derided by the right as fanciful and weak, can be a powerful force in inspiring peoples and nations towards a better society and can lead us all out of our darkest times. I wanted to hope. So much. But, I tried to maintain a healthy cynicism.

Obviously, I wasn't successful. I cried when Obama declared an end to the shameful nightmare of Guantanamo, but this week, I read headlines that the closure is no longer a priority. I've watched as my biggest fears became reality - with the mortgage-backed securities fiasco, raging unemployment, massive home foreclosures and the BP oil disaster - sad confirmation that it's the corporations who really run America, not We The People or our elected representatives.

What was I thinking, anyway? Did I imagine that a righteous administration would swoop into Washington and fend off the insidious infiltration of the religious right into every level of our government? That corporate greed would be checked by oversight and regulation? That coalition building would become the first priority and war would become the last option? That corporations would profit from the building up Iraq and Afghanistan and winning the hearts and minds of their people rather than profit from the horrible destruction of war? That the orphans and displaced families of war-torn countries would not be forgotten? That my tax dollars, instead of fueling the war industry, would go towards building real schools - for girls and boys, males and females - to outnumber radical, extremist Madrasahs? That Obama, in his unique way, would guide us all by example (like he did during his amazing Philadelphia speech about race) to rise above inflammatory, fearful, sensationalist, sound-byte histrionics and replace it with well-informed, factual, open and respectful political dialogue? That America would stop selling white phosphorous to Israel after they used it to kill and maim innocent Palestinians and destroy their homes and buildings? That America would stop sending millions of dollars in aid to Israel to support zionist neo-con agendas? That America would demand an outside inquiry into murders by Israel on the recent Gaza aid flotilla?

Yes. That's exactly what I was thinking. And more.

You must admit, as I do, that my agenda is probably impossible. It can't all be done at once. It can't all be done in four years. And it can't be done by anyone if our elected representatives must pay the powerful corporate piper in order to be elected, stay in office and get re-elected.

It was during my scenic drive through France, that I had a few profound (or perhaps not so profound) realizations. I saw Roman walls and fortresses that stood the test of time, yet Rome did not ultimately win over France. I saw war memorials in every tiny village we drove through that were honoring those who died - children who were taken to Nazi death camps, soldiers who died before and after occupation, civilians who died defending their homes. I knew then that Americans don't have this in our DNA. Other than Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have not tasted death and destruction in every small town and large city of our country. We see war in movie theaters and play war with paint balls and in massive multiplayer electronic games. To most of us, except our soldiers who have gone to Afghanistan and Iraq and returned to be silent or silenced, it's romantic, war. And the only stains we get are from popcorn falling into our laps.

Most of all, I realized that politics, across the globe, is a charade. Every movement is choreographed, every word scripted, to please the snaggle-toothed, slavering masses. It's an intellectual, elitist game, played by people whose favorite attack is to call their opponents intellectuals and elitists. Some puppet masters own the dogs and they're running, panting, circling, nipping at the heels of all of us sheep. The only thing to do is huddle together, move in the direction they're pushing and hope for a rest before the slaughter.

Meanwhile, to keep us all so busy we can't do the research and comparisons to find a kernel of truth in the silo of fertilizer, they push consumerism through advertising, mollify us with fantasy movies and keep us just so close to the teetering edge of debt that we are afraid to break free. And if any of us become black sheep and stray from the herd, they send in the clowns - Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, Imus, etc. - to snarl and laugh derisively at us and urge the rest of the sheep to do the same.

I don't know what the solution is. I know it's not just one president. I know it's not just making sure that the right Progressives, Democrats, Republicans or Independents get elected. It's a consciousness change. It's a movement, in the hearts and the minds of the people, towards the light. If disaster brings on consciousness, then there's plenty of that out there now. But instead of waiting for the world to change only when it gets a baseball bat up the side of the head, couldn't we get it right, right now?

One man, Barack Obama, could have and perhaps could still influence that shift in consciousness. I saw, first-hand, the hope in people's faces here in France during the election - from the little old man at my local bakery to the plump woman who owned the cafe down the street. He said to me, "You're American? Ah! George Boosh (grimace, thumb went down). Heellary Cleentone! (thumb went up, big smile)." The cafe owner said nothing. She just posted every front page of the French papers on her cafe windows when Obama won.

Obama could actually take a huge risk and say no to special interests and make decisions that build instead of destroy. He could focus on the people - human beings of his country and of the world - who, no matter how cynical we are, no matter how well informed we are or are not, deep inside of all of us, we long for truth and fairness. We long to be included in the solution more than in the problem. In a microcosm, I saw this in the best managers I had when I was working. And I saw it when Obama gathered online grassroots support from individuals during his campaign. It's why I secretly hoped. I knew that when a leader rises up and tells the truth, tells it like it is, with respect and integrity, we will follow.

But does Obama know that the power of integrity trumps political games? That getting hundreds of millions of people in the United States on your side can be more powerful than thousands of corporate lobbyists? I hope he gets it...soon. Until then, enjoy the circus.