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Friday, January 02, 2009

Move the Center

I still have my Obama sign on the lawn, but not for long. On January 20 I become the loyal opposition. Although I worked for his election and celebrated his victory, I’ve always known that Obama does not share all of my beliefs or priorities. Even more significant, he’s a politician, and successful politicians know how to compromise to get things done. As a watcher of politics, I’ve been impressed with the way he is orchestrating his transition to power, though as a watcher of issues I am aware of the reasons many activists are already disappointed. A few days ago I received an email petition from organic food advocates angry about Obama’s appointment of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. And then there was the ear-full I got at a New Year’s brunch about Evangelical minister Rick Warren doing the invocation at the inauguration. Warren has a record of homophobia, and gay and lesbian advocates understandably feel betrayed. I heard myself responding, “Obama is smart to govern from the center; it’s just our job to move the center.” So this morning I’m wondering what I meant by that.

By coincidence (if you believe in such things), my husband just sent me a New Yorker article with this picture of author Naomi Klein wearing a “move the center” button, which I swear I didn’t even know existed (photo by Platon). The article is long—I confess I skimmed the pages about Klein’s Marxist grandparents—but makes some interesting points. Round about page 7 Klein talks about her concerns about Obama disappointing a generation that has just now become idealist, though it is clear she doesn’t necessarily approve of idealism anyway. Her main point seems to be that in a crisis there is an opportunity for a political shift. Often the right has taken advantage of such moments, but this time the crisis in world capitalism gives people on the left an ideal opportunity to point out the current system’s failings.

For me, the current moment seems an ideal opportunity to point out the intersection of four issues I care about: economic exploitation, environmental degradation, war, and the spiritual poverty of a culture than elevates consumption of material goods to such a degree. The fact that the recession is doing more to slow climate change than any government policy implemented thus far should give us pause. Can we re-imagine our measures of prosperity so that getting back to consuming much more than we need is not our goal? Can the inter-connectedness of our economies help us appreciate that we are interconnected in other ways, as well, so that we not only don’t need other countries’ oil, but we wouldn’t consider going to war to secure it? These changes would go further than just creating “green jobs,” though I am all for those. But green jobs and windmills that just make next Christmas all about the malls again will be a missed opportunity. Sure it would be nice if Obama articulated a profoundly different vision for our country, but frankly, I’m not expecting it. Such a profound cultural shift will have to rise from the bottom up. It’s ordinary people who create the new normal, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.


Blogger Chris M. said...

This Friend speaks my mind! And then some!

I just started Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine." I had insomnia for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, and I'm pretty sure that was the reason.

Fortunately, I'm also dipping into Joanna Macy right now, and her "despair work" seems like just the antidote needed to keep my head above water. So I can help move the center, too!

11:52 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

That sounds like a good reading combination! I hope you blog about that.

8:28 AM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

I like the concept of "move the center" and support it. But I'm not one of those who is disappointed by Obama's centrist/compromising positions and appointments at this moment in history. I think the single greatest threat to our country right now is the extreme polarization of our government and even amongst average citizens. If Obama can bring together a large center and rally it (us) to think of everyone as having a legitimate voice and place at the table -- yes, even Rick Warren -- then I'm all for that. Even if that means I don't get to see all the progressive legislation I'd like to see. I think coming together in the center (wherever that is at the moment or in the future) is paramount.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Being kind of a rabid, radical leftist type, with a strong background in that side of the culture wars, I find myself kind of surprised at how I respect Obama's centrism. It seems like a whole different animal from the Clinton DNC centrism to me - I really think he is about ending the cold civil war among the American socioeconomic classes and bringing us all together in a way that someone of my background and views may not be able to fully understand, but can admire and root for - does that make sense? I am worried about the Ag. dude to be sure, and know that we probably won't be having a sudden shift to a Scandinavian-style family support system, but I remain optimistic...

I also feel that Obama is calling on all of us to make those personal changes that will make a lot of (but not all of, by any stretch) the difference - and I like to see a President calling on our better selves rather than our worse selves. As long as no one forgets that systemic change is way necessary.

3:47 PM  
Blogger I said...

from Jane: My daughter sent me to your site quite a while ago. I have been a 'lurking Quaker'!
I agree about the shift needing to come from us. I think it will come in little pieces, partly as we find the words. Yesterday I heard someone at a diner counter say he didn't 'believe' in global warming. It took the rest of the day for me to understand that if I had chosen to butt in, I might have said global warming is not a matter of "belief". And then have been prepared for a conversation!

In my blog I have written extensively about how our architecture built before central heat and a/c was 'green' in ways that we now do not notice.
To show people how existing buildings do respond gracefully and successfully to the weather, that we can do much by tweaking the good stuff we have, that we don't necessarily need "new", is not easy. People look at me in disbelief.
I continue to be surprised to find that my way to speak truth to power, to listen to my Inner Light, is to write interesting stuff about old houses.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for commenting, Jane. There are so many times when I think later of what I should have said!

As for buildings, I think you have a fascinating topic. When I was in the Peace Corps in Botswana, I lived in a mud and dung round hut that was quite cool in the heat, while people put up western style cinder block rectangular houses that were considered more modern, but which were not nearly as suited for the climate. Sad how easy it is for people to be brainwashed out of traditional wisdom.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

from Jane:
Thanks for the reply, especially the note about your house in Botswana.It is a pleasure not to have to explain what I am talking about! We in the US have little regard for the wisdom of our pre-WWII - and especially pre-WWI - buildings.

8:58 PM  

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