Monday, May 18, 2009

Consolidating the Moderates

He has done it again. In his speech to students at Notre Dame, Obama appears to walk the thin line between the right and left. (Check out the report here.) It was a speech that touches on several sensitive matters. One of them is abortion and the moral high grounds that fuel the various perspectives surrounding it. Most important, it is a glimpse of the style of America’s newest leader.

Consolidating the Moderates
- While the pro-life camp continues to campaign for Pro-life, the opposing Pro-Choice section appear to be pleased about the current limelight shed on a President who appears more sympathetic to abortion rights activists. His conciliatory approach can be evident from his words:
"The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem-cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved." (Obama, Speech at University of Notre Dame, 17 May 2009)
What is significant in his words are not the words but the objective behind the words: Setting out a common platform for meaningful discussions. The purpose of ‘so-do-they’ is to unite contentious parties by showing all that everyone is fighting for some common good to happen in the country. I think, more then ever, Obama is trying to re-awake the largely-silent moderates, who rank among the majority in society. Psychologically, moderates do appear to be quieter than radicals from either left or right. If they were to protest anything, it will be relatively muted due to their restrained nature and approach. It is this modest energy from the middle group that makes them less news-worthy or popular with the press and media. After-all, who will want to listen to a ‘boring’ perspective. Tabloids sell more when there is a major disturbance or headline breaking news.

Unfortunately, such an approach while trying to consolidate the moderates, it can also further alienate extremists from either right or left. One powerful vocal can easily communicate louder voices of dissent compared to hundreds of largely quiet moderates. It is a double whammy: of numbers as well as intensity.

I applaud Obama’s style as it is a fresh voice that seeks to earnestly invite all parties of interest to the same table. He dares to engage rather than dismiss. Without compromising his personal beliefs, he extends a welcome to the traditional factions so that they can stand on the common podium of peace and need to work together. He wants to consolidate them into the fold of the moderates. As a new and young President, Obama has fresh ideas and people will more likely give him the benefit of the doubt.

My Comment
In summary, Obama’s speech at Notre Dame is a glimpse for the public on how the new President is going to approach controversies. The focus seems to be more on STYLE rather than content, more observable talk than walk and more cool headed discussions rather than heated tantrums. He may need to make unpopular decisions. However, his faith (religious-left) is symbolized by his words: “We worship an awesome God in the blue states.” To the right-conservatives, Obama tries to communicate that they (the left) are Christians too. In doing so, he is trying to assure the liberal-left, that they are no less Christian than the conservatives. Personally, I am glad that Obama chooses to optimize fresh-starts early on in his presidency, especially potentially divisive social-religious issues. He is not one to shy away from tough issues. As the President, he can't. It is precisely this practice of conciliation that clears the deck for a fresh new shuffling of cards. Obama has invited the players to the table, asking them to come willingly. As he deals out the cards, and the players open them, the next step is to play. As the game proceeds, it may be essential to note that the objective is not necessarily to win the game. Neither is it the prize of winning the hand. Perhaps, the key benefit is to learn to know one another better. At the same time, every player will need to know, that bluffing may only lead one up to a certain point. Nothing can change the kind of cards we receive. Who are we to judge another person on the basis of what cards he/she has. We need to learn to withhold judgment (better still, don’t judge) as much as possible. It is not only a biblical imperative. It is also an act of love for neighbour. In doing so, perhaps the goal of a card game is not necessarily to win or to lose, but to enjoy the game among friends. People who are imperfect but face a common enemy as described below:
"In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.
History has shown how much unity can be forged with intense focus on common goals. I believe that is Obama's chief strategy. It is his way of uniting people by showing them that there are larger and more significant battles to be fought, not our own pet ideologies or supposedly defending our own definition of 'God's purpose.' Rather, it is in working together we learn to enjoy and wonder that God is LARGER than the sum of all fears, and hopes. Obama is helping us appreciate this.


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