By Matthew Rothschild on September 26, 2012

By Matthew Rothschild

When President Obama spoke at the United Nations, he did his usual thing. He made some great points, he soared on the updrafts of his oratory, he distorted the U.S. role in the world, and after denouncing violence, he issued a veiled threat of war against Iran.

He spoke powerfully in defense of equality for women. “The future must not belong to those who bully women,” he said. “It must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.”

And he gave an excellent defense of free speech. We “protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with,” he said. “We do not do so because we support hateful speech but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.” He added: “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.”

That’s just plain old John Stuart Mill, and it’s always nice to hear.

Obama was right when he went on to say: “There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.”

He denounced what he called “the impulse towards intolerance and violence,” and he said, “It is time to leave the call of violence” behind.

But he should talk. He escalated the war in Afghanistan and has been responsible for “the killing of innocents” there with wayward attacks that have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian lives.

And he essentially said he was prepared to renew “the call of violence” when it comes to Iran. “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so,” he said. “But that time is not unlimited. . . . The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

So violence and the killing of innocents are OK when the United States engages in them, but not when others do?

Earlier in his speech, Obama said the riots in the Middle East were “an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded: the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully, that diplomacy can take the place of war.”

But in his remarks about Iran, he acknowledged that he himself is prepared to assault those ideals and shelve diplomacy in favor of war at some point in the near future.

Two other comments by Obama troubled me.

One was his imitation of George W. Bush with the use of the expression “bringing them to justice.” Obama was referring to the killers of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the Benghazi consulate. “We will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice,” Obama said. This is frontier justice that Obama is talking about, not the concept of justice enshrined in the American Constitution or jurisprudence.

The other was his equation of democracy with free enterprise. “True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and that business can be opened without paying a bribe,” he said.

Now I’m not for bribery. But being able to open a business without paying a bribe does not have anything to do with democracy and is nowhere near on a par with freedom of conscience. You can have a dictatorship that outlaws bribery, after all.

Here, as he has elsewhere, Obama was trying to preside over the marriage of democracy and capitalism, but the two don’t naturally go well together, as we’ve been finding out so painfully in the United States and in Europe over the last several years.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Ann Romney, Paul Ryan Spin Themselves Dizzy in Defending Romney."

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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