By Matthew Rothschild on September 07, 2012

I liked a lot of what President Obama said in his convention speech.

I liked his defense of the positive role of government.

It was reassuring to hear him pronounce the three letters, “FDR,” again, which I thought had been deleted from the President’s alphabet.

It was great to hear him defend Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and Head Start.

This was my favorite passage in the whole speech:

“Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing. If you can't afford health insurance, hope that you don't get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that's just the price of progress. If you can't afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent's advice and ‘borrow money from your parents.’ "

And it was certainly refreshing to hear the President say, after Romney had mocked Obama’s concern about the rising oceans, that “climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future.”

But I wonder.

He said if we voted for him again, he’d help address the problem of global warming. Yet he dragged his feet at every international conference on the subject over the last four years and just allowed Shell to drill for oil off the shores of Alaska.

And I wonder how steadfast he is about protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, since he also said, ominously, “I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission,” which called for cuts in those crucial programs. And he repeated his paean to bipartisanship, “No party has a monopoly on wisdom”—though that ship has long since sunk.

On foreign policy, he bragged that “we've reasserted our power across the Pacific,” but this is simply setting up a potential conflict with China that could be very dangerous.

And he also boasted that “from Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings.” Somehow he didn’t manage to get to Latin America. Perhaps for good reason, since his Administration coddled the coup makers in Honduras and helped strip the people there of their “rights and dignity.”

Like George W. Bush and many presidents before him, he ended by claiming that “Providence is with us.” Is that really necessary? Even if you believe in God, which I don’t, how do you possibly know that God has taken our side?

This incantation feeds the American superiority complex, which is aggravated enough already. And it also runs counter to Obama’s theme of “citizenship,” since the whole idea of being a citizen came about in opposition to rule by royals and clerics.

Obama’s speech provided enough kindling for those who are desperate to reignite their passion for him. But it also contained within itself the seeds of future disappointments.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Free Speech Advocates Defiant in Madison, WI."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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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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