In an earlier post, I commented on how much I appreciate Michelle Obama's honesty when it comes to long term monogamous relationships, such as her marriage to President Barack.
After Obama's State of the Union address, I realize how appreciative of his honesty I am. It always bothers me when public figures attempt to create an image of stoicism and perfection when reality is not so. I find it deeply troubling, still, when public figures acknowledge flaws, conflicts or problems that need to be addressed but then quickly undermine this honesty by saying these problems will be resolved with little or no instability or strife.
This sort of deceit is troubling when any public figure fails to be honest, but is most troubling to me when politician display this cowardly, childish behavior. George W. Bush so loved to delude himself and many Americans that the U.S. has an answer for everything, a solution to every problem and we are never really in a position where we could fail, or perhaps even worse, use the wrong solution (read: War with Iraq) to fix an entirely different problem (read: Al Queda attacks based in Afghanistan). One does not have to look hard to find an example of Bush behaving this way. The first article google pulled up about George Bush's State of the Union was text from his 2008 speech. The speech began:
"Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We have faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens. These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it's fair to say we've answered that call. Yet history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose. And together, we showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government."
And we can clearly see how he continuously undermines any presentation of flaws in America, concluded that the US always acts in a just, righteous and appropriate manner. I think Bush holds a deep-seeded belief that if one acknowledges any flaws, this is an indication of weakness and therefore exposes you to your enemies. It is despicable. We all have flaws. None of us have the answer to every question. The Industrialized Western World doesn't have all of the knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes we FUCK UP--real bad, say by invading the wrong country. To convey any other picture of the U.S.A. is beyond dishonest, and, frankly, right in line with our typical egotistical inflated self-image and superiority complex.
Barack Obama, while I don't always agree with his actions and while I think he has done next to nothing for the queer community (despite his many promises), must be commended for his ability to recognize our collective flaws.
Obama begins his speech similarly to Bush:
"It's tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable -- that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday, and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were the times that tested the courage of our convictions and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements, our hesitations and our fears, America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people."
However, Obama makes reference to much darker times than Bush ever did and speaks with clarity and specificity.
"Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.
One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted -- immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed."
"But the devastation remains. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. And for those who'd already known poverty, life has become that much harder." (emphasis mine)
He lays it out clearly, without hesitation. We acted quickly, but our response wasn't flawless. We acted quickly, but our economy is still a shit-show. He goes on to say that recent economic events have "compounded the burdens" we face.
Later in his speech he says:
"So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They're not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for president. These struggles are what I've witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Ind., Galesburg, Ill."
He is willing to admit that not all of the actions we take are well received, "...we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal."
He recognizes the discomfort involved in trying to balance the many different wishes and ideas of the people (read: Lobbyist and politicians, but nonetheless): "As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth."
Near the end of his speech, he made a statement that probably best illustrates my point: "But remember this -- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is." (emphasis mine)
By creating a false and inflated sense of perfection, we weaken ourselves--this is the time when we are most vulnerable. Having the ability to be sincere and genuine about our own short comings, have the ability to reevaluate our decisions and course of actions, to admit that it is possible for us to fail--this is where we find strength. It is only through constant self-reflection are we able to grow and work towards a better life and better society. I applaud President Obama for at least taking a step towards a more realistic self-perception of the U.S.A. This flawed and fucked up perception of America is one I can believe in. ...and one that I can make a commitment to, one that I can hope to improve, on the that I can envision change for.
Bush's 2008 State of The Union
Obama's 2010 State of the Union