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Carol Smaldino Headshot

What Is the Fundamental American Promise?

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Michelle Obama gave a great speech last night; that's what I heard and what I read. My husband and I, still in Italy, are devout Democrats -- me longer because he came to America when he was 29. So the last thing I want to do to Michelle or Barack Obama is to add to any negative liberal sentiment at the moment. I just have to put in my own vote for a more holistic awareness of America, including the vitriolic tone and the basic divisions that haunt our ability to have due process. With that, I vote for far greater honesty about our confusions and mistakes as well as for efforts to understand the intensity of hate at home.

Mrs. Obama began her speech with talk of our soldiers overseas and those who fight the fight not to walk but to run marathons, the hope "in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said simply, 'I'd give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I still can do.'" She then used the special words many Americans seem to want to hear, after she added that every day she meets people who inspire her. Ready? "Every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth".

I have to object to the exceptionalism for many reasons. I think it's divisive in the midst of a need to respect not only ourselves but others on the planet. I think it's destructive because it leads to avoiding the conversations we need to be having so we can intervene in present wars and learn from history. Afghanistan continues to be a bloody and savage war (see The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan, by Murray Brewster, 2011; see the film Charlie Wilson's War for historical background on U.S. involvement). For all the veterans and soldiers Michelle Obama may meet, there are others dead and maimed also psychologically -- forever, with no pride about their "mission" or what they did and saw.

The fact that the Taliban still is so violently present and devastating and that missions to get necessary safety, health services, education and jobs to Afghan citizens have been interfered with by Afghan internal corruption, doesn't really help us resolve what many see as an interminable situation. Yes, we can pull out troops, but who will govern in their stead? This isn't just also about acts of torture committed by soldiers but by the Afghan police as documented by Brewster, a senior defense journalist from Ottawa, Canada.

We are human, and I speak as someone who loves the human side of America, the festivals of light and art and music and the creativity and community in so many of our cities and smaller counties elsewhere. We are just not above the other nations, and many -- too many of us -- are not blessed at all. In fact, many are becoming either so overwhelmed by the hardships of life or on the other end of the spectrum, cold to the needs of the less fortunate.

I desperately want Obama to win, to not lose the gains of women's reproductive choices and not lose the possibility of a coherent health plan. I hope I become blessed enough to understand it. It's not any of that. I just feel that Obama owes us the leadership to face problems head on, to say we are in a tough war in Afghanistan that has been faltering and has been tragic. I want him to say that not enough young people are feeling hopeful about their future and about their bringing wisdom to ours.

The election will be a set of sales pitches, and now that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seem closer than ever in their purpose of Obama's re-election and who knows what for the wives, he might have a better chance. But there is a lot of resistance to Obama (and there will be that if he wins) from people who demonize him and see him as the terrible socialist he is surely not. And the one thing I understand about leadership that is therapeutic, healing in a general way is and maybe therapeutic to our nation, is to bring the resistance to the fore and discuss it.

Okay, Carol, let's be realistic, it won't happen now. But if Obama does win, and in my way I pray he does, I hope he lifts his head, all of his body and his humanity and begins to discuss not only the distortions the conservatives are heaping on him -- as in he is the cause of the economic downturns and a danger to business -- but other issues along the same lines, out loud. We are in grave need, not just of winning an argument or a vote, but of accepting the challenge of a country that is filled with acrimony and accusation.

The way to solve problems in life and maybe in politics is to study them, to study the why and to come together to compromise. We as citizens can't afford to let politicians at whatever level, settle disputes through golf dates and temporary alliances. We need help, leadership, to organize ways for us to come together and humanize our stories of each other and of our country.

Every time I study the complexity of superstitions, I find my own. In reading this book on Afghanistan, I realize how ignorant I've been, how detached from the war as well. But now in addition to increased knowledge I gain, not only respect, but empathy for most contingents not purposefully involved in brutality -- the Afghan civilians as well.

One way of seeing the fundamental American promise, is that we include the use of our freedom and knowledge to humanize issues and one another, so together we can devise and invent solutions that work. Wow -- if we could start to make that promise.

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