It was a disturbing image, wasn't it? Bush at the podium. Behind him, to the left, Uncle Dick Cheney and, to the right, a spaced-out, minimized, almost transparent Nancy Pelosi--hardly a presence at all, really, in this image of male dominance. Cheney, by the way... remember Mr. Toad in "The Wind In the Willows"? Plump, rich, pampered, unperturbed, lost in his own sense of self-importance. Creepy. And, sadly, undoubtedly the most compelling presence in the picture.
So much for the image. The words? In all the punditry following the State of the Union address, I heard no mention of the use of the word "trust." Admittedly, there was not too much punditry. The speech was largely irrelevant. Bush has been superannuated, and his tired words carry no weight or fascination beside those of the presidential candidates. The drama has shifted, the media follow...
But I did pick up on that word, which must have been used at least a dozen times--a weasel word, implanted surreptitiously in the garbage heap to carry its subliminal message: trust me. Go back to sleep. I know what I'm doing. It's the same message Bush and his people have been trying to convey these past seven years -- yes, since before 9/11, since before the man took office -- he and his handlers, those enriched and empowered by his ascendance: Go back to sleep, Americans. Trust us to take care of you.
That these people have the effrontery to persist in the attempt to convey that message is extraordinary, given the hash they have made of virtually everything they claim to have achieved. The incompetence of the Bush administration has been staggering beyond belief. The snake oil he sold with the label "Compassionate Conservatism" has turned out to be no better than a slow-working poison, whose effects are as visible in the streets of New Orleans as those of Baghdad. On what basis, I ask incredulously, does this man imagine he has earned our trust?
The rhetoric of the presidential campaign suggests that the problem is not limited to Bush. It's the subtext of almost every candidate. On the Republican side, as of this moment, we seem to be placing our trust in Granddaddy McCain. But all of them signed on readily and apparently without an ounce of discrimination to the Bush agenda, his war, his corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy, his social program cuts for the poor and the middle class. All of them seek to emulate their idol, the vacuous Ronald Reagan, whose heritage for America was not only false patriotism in a world that can ill-afford it, but also a massive deficit and an increasing gap between the privileged and the deprived.
I'm saddened by the news that we have lost the candidacy of John Edwards, on the Democratic side. I'm appalled by the process that allowed it to happen -- by the corrupting role of money and the media in our election process. I supported Edwards in the belief that he understood what we, out here in the real world, mean by "change." We don't mean what I'm much afraid Hillary Clinton understands by the word: recycling the same tactics and only slightly modified policies with a different team in charge. She wants us to trust her to know how to get things done.
Fair enough. But the change I believe that most of us for looking for is something different, something more radical. Call it a paradigm shift. Of the remaining Democratic candidates, Obama seems to represent it best. It's not just a matter of knowing how to get things done, nor even simply of choosing the best things to do. That's the old "trust me" paradigm. I'll fix things for you. I'll solve your problems, and the country's, too. Go back to sleep.
What I'm hearing Obama say, like Edwards, is something more like "Wake up, America!" Something more like "trust yourselves." Roll up your sleeves and get to work. He seems to recognize that no amount of paternalistic know-how is going to address this country's problems or save the planet from the ravages of the human species. What's needed is the spirit that John Kennedy managed to inspire: it's not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country; or, today, not what your world can do for you, but what you can do for your world.
Top-down, it hasn't worked, and it's not going to work in the future. It's no longer about how we (Americans) can grab the resources we need, but about how we (in the world) can work together to manage the limited resources that are still available. It's no longer about the imposition of our will and the strength of our resolve, but about our ability to listen and share responsibility for our collective future. It's no longer about knowing all the answers, but about having the patience and the wisdom to understand the questions. It's no longer about a shift in policies, but a shift in consciousness.
Which is why, given that John Edwards has been successfully sidelined in this battle for the future of the country, I have no hesitation in lending my own support to Barack Obama. I have already voted. I put my ballot form in the mail a couple of days ago, confident that Edwards would stay afloat, at least through Super Tuesday -- a hideous term that serves only to reinforce the "horse race" quality of our election system, a part of the old edge-out-the-competition paradigm. I can't take that vote back. But I hope it turns out Obama didn't need it.