Civilization Or Barbarism?

 

 Striding Toward the Future!

 

 President Obama Asseses the State Of the Union

  He strode into the Halls of Congress like a bronze warrior.  There was tumultuous applause all around as the President slowly walked down the aisle toward the podium. The congressmen seemed delighted to get a special hello from the President, the ladies kissed him, and others seemed to simply want to touch the hem of his garment. The atmosphere was not unlike that of religious devotees greeting their Guru. 

It looked like it was going to be a good night for the President.  And so it was.  Early on in the speech the Mr. Obama spoke of the murderous attack by a deranged gunman on a Democratic Congresswoman in Arizona. But he was careful not to venture off into a polemic about the need for gun control as many well meaning people wanted.  I am certain that in his heart of hearts the President wanted to tackle the issue too.  How could it be otherwise when his home town is leading the nation in gun homicides?

Yet it was a wise political choice to play past the issue and live to fight another day, because gun control is one of the most divisive issues in America.  Talk of gun control in this speech would play into the fears of the gun nuts – which are carefully cultivated by Rush, Glenn and the other right wing verbal arsonists who use the mass media to incite racist hysteria in the untutored mob.  The Republican politicians have joined in with the well financed National Rifle Association in a Faustian Bargain to make any discussion of gun control taboo.

Questions about the nation’s future, what must be done so our kids can compete with the best in the world, etc would have been overshadowed by rancorous polemics about guns, and esoteric highly dubious constitutional interpretations of the Second Amendment. Instead President Oboma skillfully used the horrendous shootings in Arizona, which claimed several lives, as a vehicle to quickly move to higher ground.  It set the tone for his speech, which turned out to be a marvel of statesmanship.

There had been much speculation among the pundits about what the speech would address.  Given the rancorous rhetoric that has become the stock in trade of Republicans, and the uncivil atmosphere it has created, one wondered what the President could say that would appeal to both sides of the aisle. For although they had decided to sit side by side in a show of Congressional solidarity, in recognition of their colleague who lies in a hospital nursing a gunshot wound through the head, the distance between them may prove insurmountable.

The answer to our questions about the content and intent of the President’s speech came quickly as Mr. Obama staked out his territory. In essence the President’s speech, and the two Republican responses by Congresspersons Jack Ryan and Michel Bachman, presented the American people with a choice between civilization and barbarism.  The President’s vision for America is both progressive and humane.  Like his political ancestor Abraham Lincoln, another tall lanky guy who rose from the Illinois legislature to become President, Mr. Obama appealed to “the better angels of our nature.”

Concentrating his discussion on what must be done to move America forward, to remain a bastion of innovation and technical leader of the world, the president offered the American people a vision of how a better, more humane, society can be built upon the solid foundation of the best American values.  In an oration that combined poetic language and scientific analysis, faithful to the facts of history, and delivered with spellbinding eloquence, Mr. Obama painted a general blueprint of what a civilized society looks like in the 21st century.

 If Charles Darwin was right, that nature is red of tooth and claw and only the strong survives, what distinguishes the jungle from human society? What is the essential difference between civilization and barbarism?  The first task of a civilized society is to reject “survival of the fittest” as a guiding principle; to organize our society so that we help those who are unfit to become fit not only to survive…but flourish; with a real chance of becoming the best that they can be! 

 On the other hand, aside from being by turns boring and hysterical, the vision of America offered up by Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachman was a blueprint for barbarism. It is Social Darwinism disguised as a defense for individual freedom and the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution.  Their diatribes were devoid of poetry, innocent of facts, and morally bankrupt. 

 When all was said and done, the spokespersons for the Grand Obstructionist Party had a simply solution to all of our problems: Cut taxes for the rich, cut spending for the poor…and all our dreams will come true. That’s the long and the short of it: Survival of the fittest. It’s SOS…the same old stuff!  No grandiose rhetoric about personal freedom can obscure the fact that what they proposed is barbarism!  The only virtue to be found in the Republican position is that it leaves no doubt that President Obama’s vision is a civilized alternative.  And the fact that the latest opinion polls show 91% of those who heard the speech agreed with it bodes well for Mr. Obama’s chances.

 

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

January 26, 2011

 

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