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Sunday, December 13, 2009

From the Daily Kos..... Obama's Nobel Speech

The Audacity To Listen
by blackwaterdog

Share this on Twitter - The Audacity To Listen Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 02:34:17 PM PST
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". (Reinhold Niebuhr).

blackwaterdog's diary :: :: It was both entertaining and sad to hear and read the reactions to Barack Obama's lecture during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. Entertaining, because sometimes it's nice to see how theories that were built on very little knowledge and a lot of hot air and prejudices - collapse within several seconds. Sad, because this was one more example to the deterioration in the quality of the political and public debate over the last decade.

The Left feels betrayed that Mr. Obama celebrated his Nobel Peace Prize with a speech of support in the concept of 'Just War'. And the Right is shocked that this weak Muslim who was born in Kenya and hates America, is actually not such a sucker. Both sides were caught with their pants down only due to various degrees of ignorance. Because the bottom line is that Mr. Obama didn't say anything new in Oslo. At least not new to those who were listening during two years of campaign - Really listening to the man, not to the slogans and the hype - and those who read his fantastic books – Both of them (Just like the Oslo speech) he wrote by himself.

Barack Obama was never a pacifist. He opposed the war in Iraq not because of some anti-war agenda. "I do not oppose all wars", he said already in 2003, "Only dumb wars". He supported the war in Afghanistan throughout, and anyone who really listened to all his big speeches and serious interviews, could never be surprised by his latest decision.

Those who really listened, knew exactly what they were getting on November 4, 2008: A complete new mutation. Hybridization of black and white, not only in the verbal sense. Combination of a Hot-Liberal-Heart, who dreams about peace, equality and justice for all, and Icy-Pragmatic-Brain, who looks at the world with realistic eyes. Idealist, but not ideologist, packed inside exceptional intellect and charisma that is impossible to buy. A man who operate almost like a computer. There are enough emotional citizens In the United States, and even more stupid ones. They need a president who is ice-cool and twice as intelligent.

Those who listened knew that he was dead serious when he said, again and again, that he's not going to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. The only thing that matters is to make progress. He abhors the 'all or nothing' attitude and have very little patience for the extreme and the absolute. Yes, universal health care is his top campaign promise, but this is something so difficult, that no president ever managed to get, so if he needs to compromise, he will without blinking, drive progressives crazy, while moving the progressive ball forward further than anyone else did in 45 years. The main point is to make progress.

This perception comes almost in entirety from a very clear philosophy. In 2000 George Bush was asked who is his fave philosopher. His answer? "Jesus, because he changed my heart". (Jesus, in response, crucified himself again).

Three years ago, in an interview with David Brooks, Obama was asked the same question and Brooks wanted to know if he ever read Reinhold Niebuhr:

Obama’s tone changed. "I love him. He’s one of my favorite philosophers."

So I asked, What do you take away from him?

"I take away," Obama answered in a rush of words, "the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naive idealism to bitter realism."

To Andrew Sullivan he said (also more than two years ago):

"You know, reading Niebuhr, or Tillich or folks like that—those are the people that sustain me. What I believe in is overcoming - but not eliminating - doubt and questioning. I don't believe in an easy path to salvation. For myself or for the world. I think that it’s hard work, being moral. It's hard work being ethical. And I think that it requires a series of judgments and choices that we make every single day. And part of what I want to do as president is open up a conversation in which we are honestly considering our obligations - towards each other. And obligations towards the world".
Andrew Sullivan: But you don't think we're ever going to be saved on this earth do you?

Barack Obama: "No. I think it's a ... we're a constant work in progress. I think God put us here with the intention that we break a sweat trying to be a little better than we were yesterday".

And this is how he finished his speech in Oslo last week:

"We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth".

Ooops. Looks very much the same.

This is why Michael Tomasky is kicking both sides for their sudden "suprise" by Obama's speech:

The speech was classic Niebuhrian liberal internationalism. If you know anything about the kind of 1940s liberal internationalism with which Neibuhr is associated (and Arthur Schlesinger and George Kennan, say), and if you're familiar with Obama's previous speeches and remarks on these matters, he said very little in Oslo that was new or surprising.

He has always been much closer in his views to 1948 liberal foreign policy principles than 1968 ones, if you know what I mean. The surprise -- the happy surprise among conservatives, and the anger among some on the left -- says less about Obama than it does about the presumptions of listeners in both camps...

...There was nothing neoconservative about the speech. He's continuing the war that was handed to him. As he always -- always -- said he would. But there was nothing in there to suggest that he would embrace the Bush Doctrine or so-called preventive war. If conservatives want to entertain the fantasy that that was in there, that's their choice. But a "just war" quite explicitly can be fought only to redress a wrong actually perpetrated. Afghanistan, yes (to many of us anyway). Iraq, certainly not.

And by the same token, Obama said, admittedly more emphatically than previously, what he has always said but what the left has never wanted to hear. On foreign policy, he is not a 1960s or 70s liberal. He's a 1940s liberal.

So he is undertaking here nothing less than a re-centering of American foreign policy theory, forcing the defenestration of the false categories of the Bush years and trying to reintroduce into our discourse that older foreign policy liberalism, which has been largely abandoned within the architecture of both political parties -- the Republicans because they've moved so far to the right; and the Democrats not so much because they've moved so far to the left, but because on the whole Democrats just kind of stopped thinking really seriously about foreign policy after Vietnam...

Barack Obama never disseminated false hopes. He did not promise to rescue the world, he wasn't trying to walk on water. He is an amazing orator with magnetic personality, so it was easy for people to hear what they wanted to hear, and after eight years of George Bush, it's hard to blame anyone.
But what Mr. Obama did disseminate was the audacity to hope: Aspire to make the best world that we can, because there's no such thing as a perfect world, it's the horizon that none of us will ever touch, but alas if we cease to try.
And so said Niebuhr:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; there we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; there we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint.

Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

Tags: Recommended, Barack Obama, Reinhold Niebuhr, Nobel Peace Prize, War And Peace (all tags) :: Previous Tag Versions

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