Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Would that I could rid my mind of this debate  ... but it is not to be, at least not yet ... .

As I was dropping off to sleep last night, after answering Linda's last message, I was reminded of a conversation with my husband, Bill, many years ago:

It was one of those days when he was deep into grant-writing for the continuation of Project Community, the research project he had created through the psych department at the university.  He was in the early "thinking through justification" segment of the application; that part that I couldn't help with anyway, so there I stood in the doorway all bundled up ready to join some demonstration or other that would soon be underway down the hill on the steps of Sproul Hall on campus.  Somewhat petulantly but with good humor, he affectionately tucked my bright red wool scarf a bit closer to my chin saying, "you know, Hon, that it takes many decades to get measurable social change, and sometimes it takes centuries.  All of your marching and protesting and letter-writing campaigns are meaningless against that truth."  I guessed that his words were simply an expression of his wanting me to be somewhere in the house where he could hear my footsteps overhead as he worked in his big Charles Eames "thinking" chair beside the fireplace in the downstairs library.

I remember looking up at him and saying with conviction, "... but if you didn't have dedicated crazy folks like me marching, protesting, and letter-writing today, you scientists wouldn't have any social change to measure over time!"

I think my exchange with Linda speaks to that truth.

For all of my understanding of well-traveled journalist Linda's more sophisticated and informed position,  my disappointment in the president's dismissive treatment of the Rule of Law remains steadfast.  Even understanding the risks to life and limb of our citizens overseas; even understanding the dilemmas leaders are faced with in guiding the nation forward while carrying the burden of the errors of previous administrations; and, despite the limitations and vulnerabilities of being human -- somewhere among us there must be those ordinary folks, like me, who have our eyes firmly set on our ideals and demanding nothing but "perfection," even when the word has to be set in quotes.  Maybe we serve as lodestones, stars to set our compasses by, and are only meaningful when viewed from space.  Maybe we only hold influence in the aggregate, and are insignificant, individually.  But, maybe it is we who keep the faith with each succeeding generation as, together, we create and re-create participatory democracy in our time.

Maybe this is but one more example of the relative comfort with "conflicting truths" that I've matured enough to have aged into.  (and,  yes, I'm aware that this is worded awkwardly, but it's precisely what I mean.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Took the liberty of adding you to my blog ...

From: Betty Reid Soskin
To: Linda 
Subject: Took the liberty of adding you to my blog ... (with no identifying mark except for your first name)
Date: Nov 26, 2012 8:02 PM

...was really interested in your response. It pointed up just how naive are my opinions at times, even when I dig deep for meaningful answers to great questions. My somewhat sheltered existence comes to the surface in a disconcerting way, especially when confronted with Linda, whose career and life experiences are so much more expansive. I've lived my entire life within 30 square miles, and have never been in a foreign culture except for a trip to Hawaii -- if that counts at all. It wouldn't have dawned on me -- the deadly threat to those living overseas had Osama been held for trial. It just didn't occur to me that he would not be, under our system of governance. My reaction to the brutal assassination and the sadness that followed over many months may have had to do with my needing to come to terms with a new national reality that is clearly far more gray than black or white.

I'd completely forgotten about the backgrounds of those two Nobel Laureates, Yasser Arafar and Menachem Begin, two former revolutionaries who dared to outlive their colorful pasts to become "Men of Peace." Our president's record is in no way comparable, of course.

One must factor in the Marshall Mcluhan effect before drawing conclusions. That I neglected to do, unfortunately.


Re: Wheels ever turning ...

From: Linda
To: Betty Reid Soskin
Subject: Re: Wheels ever turning ...
Date: Nov 26, 2012 9:28 AM

Betty, I've been meaning to respond to your amazingly thoughtful email. Please excuse my delay - holiday eating and shopping caught up with me.

I do hope you'll place these ideas in your blog. They are powerful and certainly release a host of heated themes. That said I often wonder if a president should be judged by his character and actions within the handcuffs/context of the era in which he governs.

The delicate race balance is a fascinating issue. Though, your comments on how Mr. Obama has worked to perpetuate the changing shape of war: endless war against unknown individuals. Though this is more a testament of the civil strife he inherited, no? Osama had, in a sense, become the only KNOWN unknown individual, a person who could be crushed and possibly symbolize the end of this type of war, the transcendence to another way forward. (just playing devil's advocate here). I do believe placing Osama before a global court of law would have been the just thing to do - though it would certainly have placed Americans living abroad in harm's way (including myself at the time).

"How on earth did he end up the only Nobel Peace prize recipient with a kill list?" I remind you that Yasser Arafat is also among the recipients.

How does America continue to be a beacon of opportunity and hope when there are such coordinated global efforts to trample it? Constitutionally speaking, it's by making sure no one is above the law. Though when has America ever truly operated under this mandate? Obama had us convinced that he would be the first and by doing so would refresh America's brand. This did NOT happen. And in that sense I truly understand your grievance.

So fascinating to engage in dialogue with you. And I'm glad this exchange helped. It appears my editor is taking the economic route for the larger in-depth video. I am disappointed, but Peter cheered me up  by reminding me of our documentary (a work in progress which will be done on our terms).

Meanwhile, we'll be sending you a wedding invite today. We're so happy that you'll be a part of our really special day.



To: Linda
Subject: Wheels ever turning ...
Date: Nov 21, 2012 1:17 PM

Been thinking since your recent message -- about just how I'm feeling about this second term.  I've learned a lot, not the least of which is that -- while I'm generally quite satisfied with his first term, there are some profound disappointments as well.  And they're not race-based, surely not as much as one might expect. I've been getting some practice in trying to field questions posed by the audiences during my twice-weekly presentations in the little theater of the Visitors Center. Your recent message inviting me to wonder about the comparisons between then and now (the Inaugurations), really started the wheels turning. Whether or not such thoughts are of any value to your (potential) assignment, I've learned a lot from these me-to-me "discussions."

I'm finding that -- where there is a general feeling of satisfaction with Obama's first term, and a good deal of hope for the second, there are some major disappointments as well.  Obviously, he's had to toe the line in a delicate balance in an effort to be president of "all the people" in the face of dashed hopes of African Americans who've been waiting in line for justice and equality since the Emancipation Proclamation, at least. I'd hate to have been faced with that impossible choice. With Prof. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley leading the charge, it must have been extremely difficult at times.

But in the end, it was not the racial issues that were the most disturbing. The most crushing disappointment for me personally, was trying to come to terms with a side of his personality that was unseen prior to his ascendance to become undisputed Leader of the Free World. It was his abandonment of the Rule of Law -- the bedrock of our whole system of governance. I remember weeping as I watched him stand at the lectern to announce that we'd brutally killed Osama Bin Laden. The stark presence of an air of vengeance in that moment was almost too much to bear. Why had we not captured and tried Bin Laden in our courts for the whole world to see?

When had we entered into wars against individuals? At my age, I had experienced WWII, and painfully come terms with the essential wars of defense against governments.

It was distressing when we drifted into wars against 'terrorists' under the Bush administration, but I'd believed that was an aberration, and -- when they left office, sanity would return. Instead we've drifted into an endless war against unknown individuals who might have been dealt with by Interpol at an earlier time. Instead, I've grown less and less comfortable with the continuance of Guantanamo and the disturbing image of military technicians sitting in bunkers somewhere in Colorado -- lobbing Drones into faraway lands to slay those who've been judged as "terrorists."

It's been a slow decline from WWII when 54.8 millions lives were sacrificed, worldwide, and when we were still counting civilian death -- to now, when any casualties but our own are summarily dismissed as "collateral damage."

Why do I lay this at the feet of our president (for whom I had such high hopes)? It's because his education and background -- even before his experience at community organizing -- was in constitutional law. How on earth did he end up the only Nobel Peace prize recipient with a kill list? Has he really abandoned the Rule of Law, and if so, what hope do we have for not becoming the scourge of the world?

That night as he announced the killing of Bin Laden, there was more than a hint of having avenged a wrong. "An eye for an eye" is a step back into the dark world of the past, and somehow I hoped that we were better than that, and that he would lead us to our better selves.

Disturbing thoughts on the eve of his second inauguration, right? Maybe my hopes were just too high. Perhaps we should be satisfied with his domestic successes - which are considerable. But in a fast-changing world that is shrinking so fast through technological advances and unprecedented mobility, we're impacted by forces that are shaping our future in ways that we can hardly comprehend. It was impossible not to feel the urgency of the "Arab Spring," and to not share the hopes and dreams of other peoples in other places over our breakfast coffee and the first search of the Internet each morning. We can't afford "vengeance," at a time when the world is crying for "democracy" of the kind that both our president and our people (of whatever color) have been yearning for over the millenium. We need to keep being the hope of the world, and if Obama has a mandate, it's international, and achievable -- I believe -- and if his abandonment of the Rule of Law is any indication of his mindset -- I'm not sure I want to know it.

Request for a proposed interview by a major newspaper started the wheels a-turnin' ... .

... and the torrent of unexpressed thoughts and opinion roared into consciousness.

The inquiry came from a dear friend, and a member of the press whose work in the international media is truly impressive.  (Not having her permission, I resist the urge to name names here).

It came in the form of, "I'm proposing some ideas to my editor for a piece about the up-coming inauguration for the second term of President Obama, and one might be asking you to talk about how you feel now in comparison to what you felt in 2009?"  I'm guessing that she was referring to my hopes, and whether or not they'd been fulfilled.

I lay it aside for a few days, always with a nagging feeling that there was something resistant in me to form the words that had been lurking in the dark corners of my mind for some time now.  I realized that allowing myself to "go there" could enable me to more comfortably field the questions that come up in the small audiences who attend my commentaries in the little theater of the Visitors Center twice-weekly.  Since I do mention the first inauguration, and my responses to it, at some point such question will surely arise. This I needed to think about, and Linda's proposal just might provide an opportunity that I might otherwise have casually tossed off.   Whether an interview would ever actually be published, or that any product beyond the conversation between us would be the outcome became less important than that I think it through.  Her editor disappeared from the foreground, and the following exchange took form:

(With her permission, I'd like to post both my response along with hers.  I learned much from her more sophisticated worldly response, so the two make for an interesting counterpoint. I'll seek her permission before day's end.)