November 09, 2008

Obamania

What we have just seen in the USA is an almost Messianic passion for the person of Barack Obama. Everywhere millions seem to believe he will change America, get everyone to love the "Ugly American". In America, itself, many think he will radically change the economic and social structures.

One cannot help notice how people will believe anything that suits their preconceptions. I am not surprised. All religions are made up of significant numbers not only of mindless sheep but of often apparently intelligent human beings who will believe in the most improbable, irrational nonsense. Just consider some of the dogmas of any religion. I don't need to enumerate them here. Or how many different and competing humans, from the soccer field to jihadi cells, actually believe their God is rooting or fighting for them.

We humans never let facts get in the way of what we want to believe. The advantage of a nonmaterial God is that we should not treat God like a human being subject to our physical, mundane, personal desires. The disadvantage is that we have no way of asking and getting a clear answer. That is why we tend to turn to humans who claim they can tell us what God really wants. I can see why people need miracle workers and gurus, but I have seen a lot of abuse by so many such people

But did not the Psalmist say two-and-half thousand years ago:

"Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom one cannot rely to save. His breath leaves his body, he returns to his earth, and on that day all his intentions disappear."

Obama has successfully resisted categorization. He is a Muslim because he is called Hussein. He is an African because of his father. He is white because of his mother. He is a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist. I have even heard it said that he is Jewish because he shares a name, Barack, with an Israeli Prime Minister and Supreme Court Judge.

He is friends with Arab radicals, black racists, Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, left-wing radicals, and has been in contact with, supped with, and spoken to them all. But that's what certain types of aspiring politicians do (others focus on more narrow constituencies). America is a land of powerful interest groups and lobbies. And as his appointments are beginning to show he will have close advisors from a very wide range, including a Jewish Chief of Staff.

Obama has become a sort of folk hero, a healer, because that is what so many people so desperately want. Yet his record has proved that, like most politicians, he will do whatever it takes to get elected; he will say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear, and vote for whatever is in his interests. Have you heard Obama once mention guns?

One thing is undeniable. In no other country do the same possibilities for advancement exist for someone not of the political establishment, or the powerful families and dynasties, someone half black, with an aggressively black wife, to rise to the very top. It could not and will not happen in Europe for a long time yet. This is indeed what makes America great. And the infectious optimism is refreshing when compared to Old World negativity and cynicism. (And one must mention his brilliant use of the internet and a highly professional team that only emphasized how creaky McCain's passé campaign was.)

Most free countries have populations that are too varied for any one person to appeal to everyone. That's why governments change and that is only as it should be. I doubt anyone has or can be right all the time. Top leaders create moods, sometimes positive and enthusiastic, sometimes negative. But thank goodness they come and go, try to put things right and occasionally they do. But the show goes on regardless. And I take comfort from God's promise to Noah not to destroy the world even if some seem to be doing their level best to do so.

I am pleased Obama won. America needed a change. The pendulum had swung too far. In a way it is like religion. Too much interference suffocates. Too much freedom leads to dissipation and dilution. One needs checks and balances and cycles.

I am inspired by the example of Abraham that the Torah offers us. Despite what God has promised, predicted, foreseen, or whatever, nothing comes easily. He has to find different ways of dealing with different types of regimes, some good, some bad. Sometimes he interferes, sometimes he does not. Sometimes he makes treaties and sometimes he avoids them. Sometimes he is strict and sometimes indulgent. He is pragmatic. But above all he tries to be a good, caring human being getting on with as many different people as possible and certainly not shutting himself away from social contact. He believes in a God that lets people make their own mistakes.

In the end, the Biblical narrative is brutally frank about our limitations and concludes that God decided humans need constitutions and rules. Good intentions are not enough. Whoever applies the rules to others is a ruler, sometimes benevolent, sometimes malignant, and sometimes incompetent. That's why in synagogue we pray for them, that they should have "the spirit of wisdom and understanding".

Though it is sad that the words "politics" and "lies" are synonymous, I do not knock showbiz politics entirely. I only attack the pretence that it is more than it is, the illusions its practitioners like to foster, and the credulity of human nature. "Put not your trust in princes." Whereas Superman is a myth, Abraham is a role model.

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