How Obama’s State of the Union Could Have Reflected the State of the Spirit Today
“Hogwash, Mr. President,” Robert Scheer’s critique of President Obama’s State of the Union talk last night, is worth reading. Both that and my own analysis of the State of the Spirit in the Winter 2011 issue of Tikkun, written over a month ago, have important elements of truth. My approach, if applied to Obama’s talk last night, would agree with many of Scheer’s points, yet take a more compassionate approach, balancing Scheer’s correct righteous indignation with a larger view of the crisis facing the human race.
Our NSP point of view would address what was even worse about the Obama talk: the reiteration of the dominant values of the capitalist order — such as that the real goal of society should be to enhance our capacities to compete with each other, that what we need is a return to economic nationalism in which the U.S. is number one, that education should be primarily in science and technology in order to make sure that we can beat the other countries of the world and retain our previous position as the most powerful force in the world, and that to do that we must build our military might and make our education focused on getting more power. As the writers of Tikkun magazine have repeatedly stressed, these ideas generate a world in which there is a struggle of all against all to “make it,” and a world of endless warfare in which our resources are aimed not at satisfying human needs but at achieving dominance.
No wonder, then, that ideas like “caring for each other” or “caring for the planet” or words like love, generosity, compassion, solidarity, and environmental sanity were absent from the Obama talk. Please read both pieces linked to below and compare them with the trivialities and distortions of most of the media. And then, please join our Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) at www.spiritualprogressives.org and help us bring our perspective into the public arena. And yes, please send these two articles to everyone on your email lists to help them go viral. And you have my permission to post my article on your websites or reproduce it in your web magazines or wherever else you wish to have it printed.
Hogwash, Mr. President
by Robert Scheer
What is the state of the union? You certainly couldn’t tell from that platitudinous hogwash that the president dished out Tuesday evening. I had expected Barack Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble. He embraced clean air and a faster Internet while ignoring the depth of our economic pain and the Wall Street scoundrels who were responsible – understandably so, since they so prominently populate the highest reaches of his administration. He had the effrontery to condemn “a parade of lobbyists” for rigging government after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase to be his new chief of staff.
The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole.
The State of the Spirit, 2011
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
The bad news is that global warming will soon be irreversible and, by the end of the twenty-first century, large parts of the earth will be under water. China is emerging as the world’s greatest superpower while continuing to regiment its people and repress democratic civil liberties and human rights. Just as today the West spends its energies fighting an elusive “war on terror” generated by its fantasy that its survival depends on dominating other countries to gain their fossil fuels, in the future Western elites of wealth and power may seek to create medieval-style enclaves surrounded by private Blackwater-style armies to prevent ordinary citizens from getting at their dwindling supplies of food and other goods. Most people will be encouraged to blame each other and fight each other for the decreasing sustenance left to the majority of the planet’s residents.
All this is likely to happen gradually, as American power slips away and, with it, the particular opportunities that the citizens of this partial democracy fought to win in the past. Increasingly, we in the West may be taught to believe the “common sense” that people only care about themselves and that nations will always seek to dominate others to advance the interests of their own elites — and that therefore domination, militarism, and cruelty are necessary for “us” to survive (though in fact, that “us” will be a smaller and smaller part of the entire population). And meanwhile, the pathetically inadequate safety net won through decades of citizen and labor union activism may be cut back in the name of economic frugality and keeping taxes low, at least for the wealthy who might otherwise cut back on investments and thus provide fewer and fewer jobs for the rest of us.
Meanwhile, most liberals and progressives will likely spend the next twenty years either supporting political parties that don’t even begin to address these issues in a holistic way (and justifying that by pointing out that candidate x is really much less bad than candidate y), or putting their energies into building a community garden, alternative food store, or other intrinsically good local project or struggle that is satisfying because it is achievable. But these local projects will do nothing discernible to reverse our society’s shift away from its founding democratic and human rights principles unless progressives embrace a larger vision to unify their local projects such as that of “The Caring Society — caring for each other, caring for the earth.”
If you wish to help bring this kind of thinking into American politics and public discourse, please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives and/or make a tax-deductible contribution to Tikkun. Please also come to our 25th Anniversary celebration (info at www.tikkun.org/celebrate).