Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The Conscience of the King
There are nights, no doubt, that President Obama has a hard time sleeping. The wearying weight of a nation and the world seem inconveniently thrust upon his shoulders. Hercules knew as great a burden, but held it for far less time and without the hounding of the press or an opposition party.
One is in the uncomfortable position as President of the United States, of being called upon to serve many masters and many needs. Over three hundred million Americans, of disparate backgrounds, look to him to run the country, and have widely varying degrees of opinion on his work. He is at times savior, at times pariah; sometimes a champion, many times a loser. He no doubt knows the dastardly truth: there is no success in being a President in our modern era. It will not be until fifty or more years hence that America fully realizes what it had in him, beyond his race.
Further afield, among the other nations of the world, he is expected to be a paramount leader in foreign affairs. Though he might have a capable and courageous State Department working for him, he is at the center of the maelstrom. With the power he commands, he is expected to lead the world, as well as his nation. For certain, there is even less success in world endeavors than in domestic ones, for almost seven billion other human beings have lives so different and beliefs so broad in scope, that to get even a fraction of them to admit their similarities and the need to work cooperatively is worthy of the standing of a miracle.
Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, and it takes an incomparable man to hold his head up high, even as the winds swirl and the storm rages. His harshest critics think him the devil; his fondest adherents worship him as a saint. In the middle lies the man, struggling through main strength and good fortune to keep his nation moving in the right direction, though many pull the oars the wrong way. Odysseus would balk at having to fill President Obama's shoes, preferring the cloak and his own bow for vanquishing his foes. Politics, though no stranger to the ancient world, has become high art in the Twenty-First Century.
Our President has known successes and failures, watched progress be made and watched the tide draw us back out to sea. He has acted in a noble and decent manner often, but leaves some of us aghast at the lengths he will go to protect us. Of course, it is easy for us to be shocked or dismayed or angered by some of the man's decisions, but we are not privy to the full lay of the land, to the sum total of all threats arrayed against us, unaware as we move through daily life of the vicissitudes which lie hidden from us. We ask this man to deal with threats foreign and domestic. He is enjoined by the Constitution to protect the nation to the limit of his means, and to see to our general welfare. Occasionally, that brings him into conflict with the very tenets of decent human society.
More to the point, not everything that happens in our nation can be tied to him, though many will try, or better yet, claim they can have influences and effects that he cannot, ignorant of the true impotence of the office of President. Congress is the workhorse of the nation; where it fails to produce action, a President is bereft of any but the most draconian means to effect change. Our President is the steward of the Constitution, beholden to a Legislative Branch that must give him reasonable measures to sign into law, and a Judiciary Branch that can strip even Congress of the right to pursue any course of action it chooses. All the while, he sits, commiserates, sends out his emissaries – Cabinet officers – to do what they can to operate the nation on a daily basis and see that law and justice prevail.
He does not always succeed, our President. He is not always given the chance to. Sometimes, he must make decisions that go against human nature, or the wishes of the body politic, or the tenets of his own faith. Sometimes there will be injustice. Sometimes there will be death. Sometimes those sent to do the hot work will come home in flag-draped caskets, and he will stand there, silently, thinking what thoughts we cannot know but can imagine were we him. So it is that he may find no respite in sleep on occasion, and for that we thank him, because it states plainly what can be said to be his most divine trait: he is human.
Many of you may fault him; some of you dislike him; a few of you may hate him. That is all well-and-good, for this nation is built on the idea that even the most reprehensible thoughts and feelings may be given voice, save where they endanger others or seek to deny others their rights. Know this: no matter your feelings for him, this man has cared for you. It is not just a question of lost sleep or graying hair... this man has tried very hard to include everyone in the conversation, and where some have chosen to turn away, it has not hardened his heart to them. President Obama takes his responsibility as President seriously. He takes up the burden willingly, though it may test his mettle or break his heart.
He makes no claim to perfection and we do not seek to deify him. He is not perfect, but then none of us are. What he is, is smart. Thoughtful. Positive. He believes in us. His most admirable qualities far outstrip his flaws and faults. He cannot be all things to all people, and to expect so is hubris. He will do what makes sense for all of us, to protect all of us, and suffer the indignities heaped upon him by those who do not agree.
In the end, there is a wide gulf between President Obama and his challenger. Mitt Romney is a scion of privilege and of a religion that venerates order in power, everything in its place, every person their position in that order. His business dealings have revolved around getting a lot for a little, no matter the long-term consequences. He has a simplistic view of the world, owing to his disconnection from it by wealth. The daily travails of the average American are not his own; he cannot lower himself to that level and understand it viscerally. He has wanted for nothing, save power, always power, whether within his church, in the boardroom, or in the corridors of politics. Naked ambition and greed are not the keys to running a nation, anymore than they are the marks of a good businessman.
This election is a historical dividing line in our nation, between what was and what will be. Mitt Romney lives in the past, a past colored by his perception of things being so much better before, when any of us can say unequivocally that they were not. President Obama lives in the present with an eye on the future, seeing what he can do now to ensure a better future. Despite the resistance of those who see his election in 2008 as the destruction of the natural order of things, he has managed to right the nation, putting it back on firmer footing. Slowly, cautiously, the nation crawls back into the light from the deep pit it was cast into by short-sighted policies of the past, policies we should be loathe to want or to replicate. If the recovery has been a crawl and not a sprint, that is because the torpor caused by caution has not worn off a weary nation.
President Obama must be re-elected for the simple reason that he sees the larger picture more clearly and is willing to do what must be done to help push the nation forward, against all resistance. It is perhaps a measure of his success that members of both progressive and conservative factions seek to demonize him for what they see as his faults and failings, even where they have not lifted a finger to aid him. Those of us in the middle know: despite the best attempts of so many, the nation moves forward... haltingly, but forward. Why change a formula that has created forward momentum?
The fact is, those who oppose him simply want President Obama out of office; he represents a radical departure from what they are comfortable with. In that regard, he is the perfect man for the job, because it is time that more than two hundred years of complacency is sloughed off, and new chapters written in the history of America. President Obama is that history and he deserves to finish what he has started.