Tag Archives: Barack Obama

King, Obama, TR and Taft: thoughts about America

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m thinking not just about the great civil rights leader but also about the state of the nation — where we’ve been, where we are, where we might be going. That leads me to reflections on a couple of former presidents, and also on the challenges facing our newest president, Barack Hussein Obama, who will be sworn into office tomorrow. And I’m thinking of what advice Dr. King, who never held a public office but was one of our greatest leaders ever, might have for Mr. Obama, who takes office at a time of multiple perils and instability.

So, first: to Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the man who succeeded TR as president in 1908 and whose bid for a second term Roosevelt scuttled in his own failed third-party campaign in 1912, awarding the presidency to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. We don’t usually think of Taft as one of our more nimble presidential thinkers, but he did have his moments, as Candice Millard passes along in her fine book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, which we discussed earlier here. Here’s what Taft had to say about the man who first put him into the White House and later kicked him out:

“The truth is, he believes in war and wishes to be a Napoleon and to die in the battle field. He has the spirit of the old berserkers.”

Roosevelt was a great man, but we’ve had enough of that. You can’t say George W. Bush has the spirit of a berserker — this is not a man who wants to go onto a battlefield and join in the carnage himself — but he has acted with an impetuous relish for war when patience and diplomacy would have served the entire world far better. Obama, we have the feeling, is not a rash man. Yet, as all presidents are, he will always be pushed by those advising quick and violent action.

So it’s good — not just today, but all days — to listen to Dr. King. Here are a few of his thoughts, for Barack Obama and for all of us:

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society… shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

“War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow.”

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

Aesthetic politics: Obama, Dewey, Potter, IFCC

Last night, watching the primary results roll in (and a strange Gregory Peck movie on Turner Movie Classics), I was struck yet again by the John Dewey in Barack Obama’s victory speech. I know, I know: I’ve managed to locate Dewey in just about everything. I didn’t post about it, but I even detected him in Dark Horse Comics chief Mike Richardson in his speech at the Stumptown Comic Fest. Richardson was terrific, by the way. So maybe I’m monomaniacal on this subject, as obsessive readers of Art Scatter already know.

Dewey and Obama. It has to do with process. Embedded within this speech and all of the others that I’ve heard Obama give (not a VERY large number), he tells you how he thinks he is going to bring about the change he talks about (to health care, foreign policy, education, etc.). He believes that Americans want their problems solved and are “looking for honest answers about the problems we face.” He believes they have the capacity to understand when they hear something that makes sense. He thinks they are ready to sit down and listen. And he is committed to “telling the truth — forcefully, repeatedly, confidently — and by trusting that the American people will embrace the need for change.” Not just the American people, either, because his foreign policy is built on the same process: talk. And he describes what he thinks freezes our process now — “I trust the American people’s desire to no longer be defined by our differences” — and why he thinks we can change, the hopes we have in common. And all of this is straight out of the American Pragmatism playbook.
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