Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Obama from a Trombonist

Okay, trombone really has nothing to do with this. However, I just might find a way to work it in, so bear with me.

I have a worrying concern about Barack Obama. My concern is that the political economics of America today are such that he will only have one real opportunity to truly challenge the status quo, in a way that can include "the people" in a positive and uplifting way, versus a very divisive and ugly way. The positive and uplifting way will involve a love affair between idealism and realism, the way politics works best. The divisive way is by hedging his bets on either side of the spectrum so that no matter what he comes out looking slick and confident.

Barack Obama is now being given a golden opportunity. Very few American Presidents have ever been provided with such a canvass on which to paint. He has the opportunity to reawaken in Americans a curiosity about how the financial system works; how it has systematically bombarded our souls over the past several decades; how it institutionally favors the rich over the poor, and how it clearly considers the human being nothing more than the proverbial widget, to be sold to the highest bidder. People are genuinely upset with the system, and you can see them preparing for it to come crashing down.

The problem of the free market will be dealt with, in great measure, very soon. I can feel it in my bones. But here's the rub, we don't manufacture anything in the United States anymore, other than cars really. Sure, we manufacture a few things, but they all pale in comparison the auto industry, which is one that directly or indirectly employs approximately one in ten people in the US. And if Barack Obama allows the Big 3 to take a dive - which they of course by all market standards deserve to take - without a genuine revival of the grand discussion of "can free market capitalism truly exist in a real democracy?", we will most certainly be screwing ourselves out of a much less violent transition to a more sustainable economic platform from which to operate in America.

In more direct terms, my concern about Obama is that his propensity to take a centrist view on things, or to work very hard to please both the left and the right by hanging out in the middle, is genuinely flawed. The Buddhists have what they call "the middle way", but it is nothing like political centrism, even though centrists like Barack Obama tend to speak about it as such. The middle way is a place of grand practicality, idealism, and never going too far or getting too deeply into any one thing or idea; have goals, but do not let them run your life, and so on. Political centrism is much more about being neither this nor that, so folks on either side of the spectrum cannot paint you as being left or right. If there were a kind of political middle way (in the Buddhist sense), one would not care whether he or she was perceived as favoring the left or the right. He or she would be only concerned with making the most logical and meaningful decisions for each and every problem faced. Neither would he or she feel the need to show non-attachment to either side of the spectrum. Part of taking the middle way is developing the courage to take a stand on something, because you know - not from a gut feeling, but from deep thought and study - it is the stand that you must take in order to not sacrifice your self worth. For example, there was a certain point in time when I made the decision - as a trombone player - to leave the straight ahead jazz world behind. I'd had enough of always trying to sound like somebody else, which is a rampant disease in the jazz world. I needed to find a new kind of music to play; a kind of music where I could be who I really am, play to the best of my ability, and never feel like I am shutting down the inner artist. For me, that was free-form improvisational music and now underground live-band hip-hop. I am a better man for making that decision, even though it routinely pisses of straight ahead jazzers when I tell them what I think of songs like All the Things You Are. My band mates are laughing it up right now, and it looks like I worked in the trombone after all.

Well, my point is, I am a little uncertain of Obama's ability to step out of his centrism and into his middle way-ness if you will. I'm not ready, like so many of my fellow progressives (for lack of a better term), to paint Obama as just another do-nothing politician who won't challenge any of the institutions that keep us subservient to an unjust system. But, I'm ready to question his motives.

He needs to understand that the free-market capitalist system has failed in every way. It has failed the Earth, our political system, our culture, and our arts. It is the single most destructive force on Earth. If he does not listen to the most suffering of the world and really take on this debate, he will have missed the opportunity to truly be a transformational figure in American and for that matter world history. The rest of the industrialized world has already at least begun to tackle the problem of the tyranny of the bottom line. President Obama, the first Black President of the United States, needs - for the good of the world - to be the one who stares sternly into the scarred and pockmarked face of the free market and makes a decision that is neither left, nor right, nor centrist; a decision that is arrived at from pure truth, introspection, investigation, and realism.

Never mind the right, the left, and the center. Instead, mind the society and culture in which you live; and be mindful of how they are affected by the system you defend.

-Christopher Robin Cox

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