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Disenthralling Ourselves

I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008. I won’t be voting for him in 2012 either.

Back in 2008, Obama captured the hopes and dreams of many Americans… especially the young. He spoke of hope. He spoke of opportunity for all. He spoke of repairing America’s damaged image in the world. Those drawn to his eloquence worked hard for him and voted for him. If they were paying attention once he took office, their hopes quickly vanished.

Nothing has changed.

Wealth has become even more concentrated. Military spending remains out of control. Our civil liberties have come under severe attack with the treasonous NDAA. Local school budgets are under pressure as charter schools and “employer-directed curricula” are praised. More nuclear, more pipelines and, can you believe it, “clean” coal have become a campaign cry. Corporate geneticists tamper with our food supply.  The cost of health care continues to skyrocket.

Nothing has changed.

And, because it seems just as relevant today as it seemed four years ago, I’ve included in this post the following article I wrote on OpEdNews back in February of 2008:

Obama: In the Shadows of Al Gore’s Moral Imperative

“This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately, it is about who we are as human beings and whether or not we have the capacity to transcend our own limitations and rise to this new occasion. It is about whether or not we can see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for; whether or not we can — in Lincoln’s phrase — disenthrall ourselves, shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that have been clearly given, and to hear clearly the ones that are being given now.” – Al Gore “The Assault on Reason (p. 212)”

The context of Mr. Gore’s comment had to do with responding to the challenge of global warming, but, in my opinion, it applies to the many crises confronting us. For those to whom everything is politics and campaigning, hear the words: “this is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue.” Each of us has a moral obligation to hold everyone running for office to the very highest standards. We must not give our support and our votes lightly. Our duty to ourselves, our families, future generations and the global community demands that we look inside ourselves to our most deeply held values and ensure that they are reflected in those we support. To distract the electorate with gibberish like “inevitability”, endorsements and campaign hyperbole at the expense of reasoned discourse about where we are and where we must get to is a disservice to all mankind of the highest possible order.

I read the speech Mr. Obama gave last year at the Wilson Center. Few have surpassed his eloquence. Mr. Obama asked a most devastating question during his remarks. It is a question that should be asked not only with regard to how foreigners see us but also with regard to how we see our own government and our own country. Mr. Obama said the following:

“Al Qaeda’s new recruits come from Africa and Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Many come from disaffected communities and disconnected corners of our interconnected world. And it makes you stop and wonder: when those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?”

When they look up at that American helicopter, do they feel hope or do they feel hate? That’s a wonderful question to ask. And Mr. Obama made numerous excellent points about how to improve America’s image in the world. He talked about foreign aid and education and understanding other cultures – all good. But he, and I don’t at all mean to single him out here, has failed to name that which far too often goes unnamed. All of these “goodwill” efforts are commendable. At the core of what America exports, however, is the military-backed support for multi-national corporate greed.

You cannot tiptoe around that. You cannot do all the pretty things and hide the ultimate oppression. As an example, look what happens right here in the US. The headline reads: “Walmart’s coming.” That’s the end of small town America. Board up the windows and tell the lifetime merchants their services and products are no longer needed. It changes more than just a few businesses; it changes the culture of America. And when a business is so large that whole towns are dependent on it, the citizens are readily blackmailed into catering to the whims of that business. Zoning laws are overlooked; pollution controls are eased; tax rebates are offered. The community is held hostage. This shouldn’t be news to anyone.

When America exports its multi-national corporations, especially those in the “extractive” industries (think Big Oil), things are much worse and the imbalance of power between third world governments and societies and the power of mega-corporations backed by American willpower, military power and economic power cannot protect local interests. Global corporatism is not “lifting all boats”, it’s raping foreign peoples all over the world and destroying the eco-structure on which we all depend. Do you think the loss of the Amazon rainforests happened because indigenous tribes are building too many canoes?

Of course, the plundering we allow these mega-corporations to do goes well beyond societal and environmental disruptions. The US, at the behest of industry, sends its “hitmen” to topple unfriendly governments and assassinate unfriendly leaders. Those countries able to resist often find themselves suffering severe economic consequences for playing hardball with US companies and the US government. In the end, what we allow to be “exported” in all of our names is poverty and oppression. We cannot gloss over, for example, the theft of Iraqi oil which will deprive the Iraqis of their primary source of wealth, and compensate the reality they’ll soon come to know with foreign aid in the form of beads and trinkets.

So, Mr. Obama has asked the right question and has even proposed some reasonable ideas about how to improve the image the rest of the world sees when it looks up at our “helicopters.” But, sadly, Mr. Obama’s remarks fall far short of addressing the real problems. He understands that poverty sits as a root cause of terrorism; he understands that unless we project American values to the rest of the world we will have no moral suasion; but he does not name the unnamed tyrant: imperialism. To fall short of this mark, even given all the other programs and goodwill gestures, will do nothing to change how America is rightfully seen by the rest of the world.

Those who accept the moral imperative Mr. Gore spoke of must see that “the very same beast” confronts us right here at home. Until we rid our own government and our own democratic institutions of this cancer, all the programs from all the candidates, no matter how well intended they may be, will not produce the changes we so urgently need. Our country is in decline; the great American empire may well be in the final stages of collapse; and global warming threatens the lives of hundreds of millions and the futures of all living species. Clearly, the moral imperative demands that our candidates speak the truth and rise above mere political concerns. If we fail to demand this of them, and surely they are all capable of it, then ultimately it is we who should be held most responsible. Please, let’s not let that happen.

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