All my love/ none of my blood

All my love/ none of my blood

My grandson’s 5th birthday this week was a gathering of the tribe. Except there is no tribe; rather there’s a partially blended family. Lucas’s mom (and her mom, later to marry yours truly) came to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was four. Her husband was born in Baltimore, with Caribbean, and also older African roots. When they were married, I had been Jasmine’s stepdad for almost 20 years. You could say (if you have that sense of humor) that I am the token whiteboy in the family.

You could also say, truly, that Lucas has all of my love, much of my hope, and none of my blood.

How did this lead me to prophets and presidents? O course I would like Lucas to grow up in a happier and safer world than our present one. And sometimes I try to tell his mom that his future could reasonably play out in an America so ugly and damaged that it would make this one look like paradise. Or not play out at all. But that was not the discussion Saturday night.

I was planning to leave early (I am fighting some flu-like illness), when Jasmine’s brother checked in with me about Shakashvilli’s Georgia. Soon we were in an intense conversation about… Barack Obama. We were joined by my son-in-law’s cousin and his wife. Most of what follows started in the interchange with Khari and Matt. Poetry aside, dialog usually is my best form of thinking.

The bottom line is that I think Barack should replace half of his advisors (HYPERBOLE ALERT) with Cornel West. What I said  was that you can hear “the prophetic voice” in Obama’s earlier writing and speeches, but the “presidential” Obama parses and temporizes like a Clinton.

Now that’s not the worst thing in the world – and infinitely better than the present and would-be next Republican President. That’s why Obama can count on the vote of people like me (‘cept there ain’t none.) But jokes aside, is being better than the muscular Republicans good enough? Will it get us through 2012 – in a direction that also offers hope for Lucas and all of us?

This is not a trivial question, altho many people I know who ask that question are already involved the Green and other efforts. I do not think I can go there. And after listening to a contemporary who spent many years helping to build the Californian Green Party, that alternative is even less attractive. (Adrienne is supporting Barack.)

Look. We (and the Obama campaign, despite its Change mantra) act as if the world we know has existed for a long time, is pretty good, and will continue to get better as long as we are “realistic” as well as well-intentioned and smart about what we do. Not a useful assumption.

For one personal thing, civilization as both my parents’ parents (Central European Jews) knew it came to an end during World War II. The surviving descendants and immigrants are mostly here in the United States – and many of us are foolish enough to think that only Israel (meaning Jews) faces an existential threat.

Here in Frederick, MD (center of U.S. biochemical “defense” research) we were recently visited by to of the Hibakusha (MAKE LINK), survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs. Ota (FULL NAME) said: We are getting old, we are afraid That the world is forgetting and that it will happen again. Impossible? Just because we squeaked through 60 years of cold war, local war… and local genocide? Think again. And Google “Arkhipov”. (Russian sub nuclear sub commander who would have launched during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if he had followed his protocols.)

For another thing, serious discussion of black/white issues are still mostly taboo (Jeremiah Wright may have gone over the top at the end, but most of what he said what elementary once you take the blinders off.) And the history of us and the folks who lived here before Europeans is not a serious part of our “story” either. Genocide is not a modern invention; we’re just much better at it since it became industrial-strength.

Speaking of industrial strength, we may have to refer to this as the post-Gore era. Whatever else you might say, “An Inconvenient Truth” made “terracide” part of the conversation. Man’s unnatural abuse of nature is just as future-threatening as man’s inhumanity to man.

We have also been self-deluding (partially from leftover racism) about the part of American and corporate power in the continuing misery of poor people both here and abroad. We are quite happy to point to their failures (which are real, as in e.g. internecine murder in the Arab world, Asia, and Africa, or assorted gangsters and rhetoricians at home) but always with a self-exculpating finger.

And for the rest of y’all, who think this is a bunch of “radical exaggeration”: When the economy breaks down enough everyone suddenly realizes that our large “middle class” is hurting too (and becoming smaller). It is alway there, but now it’s easier to see that it is “us” as well as “them” in trouble.

Why must Obama do something about the prevailing self-righteous mythology that allows Americans to abuse less-advantaged Americans, and just about everyone else? I’m not saying he could or should take it all head on (even though he probably knows more about this than many of his supporters and most opponents). It’s just that “progressive” denial has already got a Democratic party that continues to be whipped in Congress by an unpopular lame-duck administration. It’s made the debate over Iraq into a question of efficiency (Petraeus gets better results than his predecessors) rather than the price Iraqis and ourself have already paid, after we went in under false pretense and imperial oil-lust (cf. the first CIA-oil adventure in overthrowing Mossadeh in Iran in 1953).

And isn’t McCain already calling Obama a defeatist?

So Obama is complicit in conducting a conversation whose assumptions diminish the possibility of democratic debate and decision-making. That could help McCain win, or result in an Obama administration represented by 50,000 or more G.I.s (and contractors and oil companies) in Iraq indefinitely, anchored by the most elaborate and expensive fortress-embassy the world has ever seen. Not exactly a beacon of liberty in the struggle for hearts and minds.

Or Obama could listen less to his most “realistic” advisors, and more to the prophetic voice he has already shown exists inside himself. Or if you don’t like religious language, Obama could depend more on his own intelligence, “idealism” and richly differentiated understanding of how good and evil function in the world. He could decide that a formidable candidate can be a formidable LEADER. We could sure use one.

No, prophets do not run for President (nor do they have to spend much of their waking lives raising money). Abraham Lincoln did not right all wrongs and solve most problems, but he clearly saw himself as a leader in a time of crisis. He suffered along with his countrymen. He knew that to lead he needed to listen to the prophetic voice, aka “the better angels of our nature”.

A cynic would say that if he was a candidate today, the Great Railsplitter would be run out of town on a rail.

And I would say tthis: It would be a great and glorious irony if the first President to really tap that vein of Americanism since Lincoln was a black man. Despite some of the evidence, I still believe that is possible. It won’t make everything hunky-dory or Messiah-like, but it will put hope and change back where they belong – in the discourse of practical possibility.

God help us if Obama talks the talk and triangulates the walk. She doesn’t take kindly to strutting, powerful men. Or, in the long run, to Empires.