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‘The Secret Heart of Presidents’ or ‘The book Obama must have read’.

April 16, 2010

Ever wonder how Presidents sleep at night? What they dream about? What their hopes and fears are? I do. They are men after all. Subject to the vagaries of life on planet earth. Like us, they are buffeted by change, confused about the motivations of their fellow-man, bewildered by shifting political alliances, troubled by the choices put in front of them. Ever wonder what they wish for?

I’ve just read a great book. It’s called, ‘The Next 100 Years’, by George Friedman. In it, he looks at world problems in terms of economic rather than ideological terms. History and geography, he contends, play a greater role in shaping the planet than any passing political philosophy.

It answers a whole lot of questions that have been plaguing me of late and in no particular order, here they are;

‘Why is it that politicians always act so differently when they achieve power as compared to their campaign promises?

Why have we abandoned space exploration?

What’s up with China?

Tea Party? I mean really, the Tea Party?!!!!

Taken as a whole one would be forgiven for believing that the U.S has lost its collective mind. Here is a sampling; It took a whole year to pass what amounts to a rather meager effort to fix Health Care even though it has been crippling the economy for years. It’s been almost two years since the financial meltdown and yet no reforms have been put in place and one of the only two major political parties is dead set against it. Guantanamo bay is still open and we are still in Iraq.

The President is intelligent, subtle , nuanced and civilized, ( just read his books or listen to what other world leaders think of him), yet, for all of that, a rather vocal minority can only concentrate on the color of his skin.  We on the left of the political spectrum have our own problems with the President’s policies that have nothing to do with his birth certificate and everything to do with the disparity between what he promised and what has actually taken place under his administration so far.

So what happened? Well, George Friedman would say that what happened is what happens to all men who achieve the office of the Presidency of the United States. Once in power they have very few good options on the table from which to create policy. There are geopolitical forces at work which they have no control over. And taken in that context things start to make more sense. As an example, given the situation in Israel and Palestine, would John McCain behave differently? Would he be able to get these two sides together? Can anyone? Given the political instability in China, can anyone dictate currency policy in that country? Given the criminal and rabid partisanship in his own country – where charges of treasonous behavior against him are a daily occurence – how does he achieve consensus on any piece of legislation when all anyone can focus on is the color of his skin? I mean we actually have people in this country who would spit and hurl racial epithets at legislators ( caught on camera) and then deny it happened. And these same people are forming a political party of their own from largely middle-aged white guys who would routinely vote against their own best interests just to maintain the status quo.

Looked at from an immediate standpoint, the countries of the earth are a mess – or rather a mass of conflicting ideologies unable to reconcile their differences other than to wage war. Whether it be wars of aggression or economics or neglect. Looked at from space or history, the world is behaving the way it always has – each country (tribe) trying to secure resources for its own members. And, like it or not, the United States Of America is the pre-eminent tribe on this globe at the moment and, according to George Friedman who makes his living studying these things, will be the pre-eminent tribal power for the next hundred years or so.

So, does President Obama go to bed at night as President Bush and 40 others before them did, consumed by the myriad choices before him and his country? Does he have nightmares about the world consumed in nuclear fire? Does he pray, as Lincoln did, that his administration doesn’t do so much damage in four years that the incoming administration couldn’t fix it? You bet he does. He is a man after all. And he deserves our prayers – and sympathy.

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