The Two Faces of Obama

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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

~ Barack Obama (President of the United States.  Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. December 10, 2009)

For years, Americans saw live, and in person, or on television screens, Presidential aspirant Barack Obama.   Several mused; the man is calm in a crisis.  “No drama Obama” was the phrase most often associated with the candidate.  Those closely and personally connected to the potential President corroborated what was for most only an observation.  The election did not change Barack Obama.  His calm demeanor remained intact.  Yet, many perceived a difference, not in his response to a predicament, but in the President’s rhetoric.  Empathy evolved into escalation.  This was perhaps most evident on two occasions, when Mister Obama delivered his Address on the War in Afghanistan, and then again when the Commander-In Chief offered his Remarks in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.  After these events, the pensive pondered; what was there all along, Cerebral Discord, the Two Faces of Barack Obama.

During the Presidential campaign, millions were aware of the dichotomy.  For Barack Obama the need for empathy and the escalation of armed forces seemed to safely coexist.   Others, hopeful, for a change may have chosen to forgive what was a concern.  Perchance Mister Obama’s persuasive language assuaged the American people, or they too may have suffered from the same condition, intellectual disharmony.  

Possibly, the public was either so eager or expectant, that they did not wish to wonder what might occur if Barack Obama acted on the more aggressive stance he often took.  Troop escalation in Afghanistan is a must.  The words the President of the United States postured in his recent remarks at West Point and in Oslo, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, while countless thought anathemas, were as he presented in his published plan on July 14, 2008.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.

Yet, most Americans and the Nobel Prize Committee were stunned when as President, Barack Obama fulfilled his promise.  More struggled with what they heard days later.  In his acknowledgement of the award he was about to receive, the Peace Prize, Barack Obama explained, and exclaimed, as has been his well-established habit; empathy is essential and compassion can not cure the world’s ills.  

While the rhetoric was exquisite, and the rationalizations seemed sound, the inconsistency awakened awareness.  At once, observers were alarmed by what was apparent for quite awhile.  There are Two Faces of Barack Obama.

The few who had feared his empathetic side welcomed the warlike stance of the current Commander.  Others felt the sacramental observance, the Nobel Peace Prize Presentation, was not the place to promote war.  Nor is it thought apt for the beneficiary of such a significant award to advocate for armed conflict.  Even those who trusted he would do as he had done, and say as he did, found it difficult to grapple with what Barack Obama has for all of his life: cognitive dissonance.

Some may ask; how can one man, woman, or one mind so adamantly adhere to the idea of empathy, and also embrace the notion that our fellow man is our enemy.  What is it that drives a desire to reason love and peace are  harmonious with hatred and war?  Why would a brilliant being think violence builds benevolence?

The cause, or perchance the effect, of the President’s condition was delineated and defined in 1956.  five years before Barack Obama was even a thought in the mind of his mother Ann Dunham.   Prior to his conception, few imagined that today a baby, born to an average Americans schoolgirl, would be addressed as Mister President.  All those decades ago, an individual whose background was as varied as Barack Obama’s is, could not be expected to achieve the grandeur he has.  At the time, to even ponder the possibility might evoke Cognitive Dissonance,  had the notion been a known construct.

Today, Social Psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory is an accepted truth.  Humans have honed the art of rationalization.  Some offer seemingly reasonable interpretations better than most others.   Mister Obama spoke of his skill to allegorize, to offer an analysis that is coherent, and cogent.  Indeed, as he wrote in his most recent tome, The Audacity of Hope,  President Obama offered that through conversation, he could conquer an adversary.

Readers of his book may recall the beloved tale that endeared the President to those who hoped Barack Obama might be a man of peace. The story led many, perhaps even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee 2009, to believe this Head of State is worthy of the honor he was awarded.

Like most of my values, I learned about empathy from my mother. She disdained any kind of cruelty or thoughtlessness or abuse of power, whether it expresses itself in the form of racial prejudice or bullying in the schoolyard or workers being underpaid. Whenever she saw even a hint of such behavior in me she would look me square in the eyes and ask, “How do you think that would make you feel?”

But it was in the relationship with my grandfather that I think I first internalized the full meaning of empathy. Because my mother’s work took her overseas, I often lived with my grandparents during my high school years, and without a father present in the house, my grandfather bore the brunt of most of my adolescent rebellion. He himself was not always easy to get along with; he was at once warmhearted and quick to anger, and in part his career had not been particularly successful, his feelings could also be easily bruised. By the time I was sixteen we were arguing all of the time, usually about me failing to abide by what I considered to be an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules–filling up the gas tank whenever I borrowed his car, say, or making sure that I rinsed out the milk carton before I put it in the garbage.

With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments, in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable. But at the same point, perhaps in my senior year, such victories started to feel less satisfying. I started thinking about the struggles and disappointments he had seen in his life. I started to appreciate his need to feel respected in his own home. I realized that abiding by his rules would cost me little, but to him it would mean a lot. I recognized that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.

There’s nothing extraordinary about such an awakening, of course. In one form or another it is what we all must go through if we are to grow up. And yet I find myself returning again and again to my mother’s simple principle–“How would that make you feel?”–as a guidepost for my politics.

It’s not a question we ask ourselves enough, I think; as a country we seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit.

I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.

~ Barack Obama excerpt from The Audacity of Hope

At the time he wrote those words, as Senator, and an author who aspired to inspire, Barack Obama reminded readers, No one is exempt from the call to find common ground.”  That is, unless, as he clarified with the Nobel Peace Prize in his grasp, “(A)s a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.  Today, the man who occupies the White House would seem to no longer believe as his followers thought, or hoped he did,  

Perchance, a culture mired in its own cerebral discord did not acknowledge that Barack Obama has always been a mirror image of society.  He speaks of his love of peace.  He yearns for global harmony, yet President Obama believes war is a worthy endeavor. For the once candidate and also for the Commander-In-Chief who currently occupies the Oval Office, empathy is thought as  necessary as escalation. The Two disparate Faces of Obama are as they were, united.

Barack Obama has not changed.  Only people’s perception of him has been transformed, transitioned just as predicted, or has revealed itself to be as the President pledged.  The public saw the side of Mister Obama that he presented, and or, the one as individuals, each American might prefer.  He has always been one who embraces empathy as he asserts evil exists.

Little more than a year ago, when but a Presidential hopeful Obama offered his carefully crafted message while in Church, Christians rejoiced, as did those of many faiths.   On August 16, 2008, the world watched the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.  Barack Obama presented his peaceful posture, not the face of the person who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for to us have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because a lot of evil’s been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil. . . .

In the name of good, and I think, you know, one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think that our intentions are good, doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.”

What a difference a day makes.  As a potential representative of the people, on the night of the Presidential Forum, Obama expressed as he had in his tome,  “Mutual understanding is not enough.  People must practice as they profess to believe.”  However, as he himself once chimed “Talk is cheap.” The philosophy Presidential candidate Obama bequeathed upon the American people, the thought that gave constituents hope has been shelved.  The sentiment is available only in archives far from the White House Situation Room.

When I was a community organizer back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy, and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I’d tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves.  If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.

The Nobel Committee might have read the passage, and as was stated, they wanted to support Mister Obama’s approach.  Accolades for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” was thought to be sufficient to explain what those who were troubled by the March 2009 escalation could not understand.

Perchance, his mere election alone meant that “Obama has, as President, created a new climate in international politics.” After all, near a year before the Nobel announcement, Barack Obama had completed his original mission as articulated in 2004, “My job is to inspire people to take ownership of this country.”

Possibly, at the time of the official announcement, the Norwegian group was as mesmerized as the world was.  They too reveled in what Barack Obama acknowledged in his book; he has a “gift for rhetoric.”

That may explain why in an October Press Release the Nobel Institute stated that they thought Barack Obama embodied the essence of their belief “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”  At the time, the Norwegian Stortingof might have recalled the eloquent and empathetic language of the world leader.  The Committee may have been so moved by the peaceful prose of the President they did not realize they had only caught sight of one of the Two Face of Obama.

While the Peace Prize is intended to go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” on this occasion it did not.

A warrior, or one who sends tens of thousands of American sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and sibling off to slaughter and to be slaughtered received the honor. The combatant face of Obama who surrenders his more peacefully stated principles claimed the accolade.

In his Oslo lecture, the President did not acknowledge his cerebral discord.  Instead, he reasoned as researchers realized those who wrestle with cognitive dissonance do.  From the windows of the White House, President Obama, tells us, decisions look very different, (or did they, since Barack Obama actually did as he penned he would in his July 2008 plan)  Protected in the cocoon of a title, Commander-In-Chief, it is possible to order the massacre of a population comprised mostly of children, under the age of fourteen (14) and to do it “faster.”

Rationalization realized when cognitive dissonance dominates allows for avoidance and less authentic analysis.  Simply stated, President Obama professed to the Nobel audience, “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”  This is the Obama escalation truth, regardless of a reality shared by his National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, on Cable News Network’s “State of the Union” only days before the Peace Prize Committee announced that President Obama would win the award.

“Obviously, the good news is that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.

Now the problem is the next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border. But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger — imminent danger of falling.

The intelligence General Jim Jones imparted was ignored just as the guidance from U.S. Afghan envoy, retired General, Karl Eikenberry was.    General Eikenberry advised against escalation.  However, the empathetic President, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient exclaimed to his Cabinet and Commanders, “What I’m looking for is a surge.”

Barack Obama favors, the fight.  An Afghanistan Apocalypse. seems reasonable when rationalized through the eyes of one comfortable with cerebral discord.  From the Executive Office, empathy equates to a troops escalation.

Perhaps, one day, anathemas such as war will advance authentic prospects for global harmony. Intellectual cacophonies, two faces shared by a man, (a nation, or the world) will merge into one.  Then, and only then, will change emerge, and peace be truly prized.

Surge reduced violence; but distracts us from long-term goal.

~ Barack Obama. CBS News interview with Katie Couric, July 28, 2008

End the war, and end the mindset that got us into war.

~ Barack Obama. 2008 Democratic debate in Los Angeles, California, January 31, 2008

Never fudge numbers or shade the truth about war.

~ Barack Obama. Keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention July 29, 2004

References for a dual realty . . .

The Unstoppables; Bill and Hill



US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

How do you stop a train that long ago left the station?  How might you un-ring a bell that rang weeks months, or even years, before you knew the chord was struck?  How can a countryman, or woman rewrite history?  How might a Clinton, or two reclaim entrance into the White House?  Perhaps, she [or he] has already done what, since Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination, no one expected.  The Clintons have found a way through the front door of the White House prior to 2012.  Days ago, President-elect Obama met with Hillary Clinton to discuss her role, and her husband’s, in the Oval Office and in international affairs.  Senator Clinton emerged as the candidate for Secretary of State.

While Americans voted for change in 2008, and millions cast aside even the politics of past Democrats, the Clintons included, Barack Obama calculated his choice for this most senior position would be his former antagonist, Hillary Clinton.  Some reports say the New York Senator requested time to think.  Other accounts suggest the Obama Administration asked only for her thoughts.  What might Hillary Clinton wish to pursue.  As the hours pass there is one certainty.  “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has engaged three prominent lawyers to help President-elect Barack Obama vet her candidacy for Secretary of State.”

Several within the President Elects inner circle were critical of the possible appointment.  Advisers to the former First Lady said nothing is definite.  Senator Clinton will weigh whether to take the job if President-elect Obama offers it.   Yet, it seems the die has been cast.  Senator Clinton and her spouse have secured the powerful position of Secretary of State.

Breathless with consternation, numerous inquire; is there a way for one small individual to sway a gargantuan group who controls what was and will be our government?  Countless fear not.  It seems the Clintons will once again control policy, people, and alter the political landscape planet wide.

Momentum builds.  A rolling stone, or a rumor, gathers no moss.  When a report is not immediately rescinded, we must accept, as frequently occurs, gossip grows into reality.  Hence, scores conclude, Hillary Clinton will be the next Secretary of State.

The way is cleared.  Only the justifications need to be formalized.  Qualms need to be calmed.  One cabinet job would put focus on “Two Clintons.” That circumstance cannot be corrected, and perhaps, the President-elect would not wish to alter what is.  Some say the status of a former Commander, well-connected would benefit the soon-to-be current.

“He’s a former President of the United States. He’s been traveling around the world, and he’s got his foundation and a lot of foreign policy efforts going on,” proclaims Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff.  The current Professor of public policy, Mister Panetta pronounces, “What they will have to obviously be careful of are the potential conflicts that might appear.”

Conflicts may extend to interests, investments, and the invisible hand of another American widely considered a world leader.  In the past, the President may call upon another former United States Chief Executive for advice.  He, or she might ask for counsel, or invite the previous President to serve as an envoy.  However, if, as proposed, the once Head of State sleeps with and sings sweet nothings in the ear of the current Secretary of State, it may be a challenge for Premiers and Prime Ministers to determine which President presides. A nation in negotiations must be confident; the person they speak with communicates the preferences that take precedence in policy decisions.

Rogues often rise from rolls in the hay.  “You want to be able to determine when you are going to make use of a former president in terms of foreign policy or trying to help on particular issues. That can be a very powerful tool if it’s used well,” Professor Panetta advised. “It has to be used with discretion. Delicate details in an intimate relationship cannot be ignored, particularly when more than passion is at stake.  Lives can be lost on the turn of a phrase.  A United States President, be his name Bill or Barack, must not forget how much influence he has in and out of the bedroom.

Charles Hill, a Professor at Yale, perceives a possible peril if Hillary Clinton is appointed Secretary of State.  The scholar, Hill explained, the former President’s constant presence could lead some world leaders to question the authority of the new Commander-In-Chief.  As he attempted to digest the dynamics, Charles Hill asserted, “He’s got to maintain his stature. He should not want Bill Clinton getting all the ink or Hillary Clinton.”  

The ink may have already been put to paper and dried.  Deeds may be done and decisions made.  Hence, Professor Hill’s concern for supposed sins may only be academic.  Nevertheless, he states, the selection would violate “one of the cardinal rules of foreign policy: “Secretaries of State don’t deal with ex-presidents.  And if they do, the White House raps their knuckles.””

A slap of the hand, a slight blow to the wrist, a reprimand, or a retort will not change what has been a constant in the life of Hillary Clinton.  Bill will not be removed; her resolve will also remain.  

Hillary Rodham Clinton the oft-perceived to be a hawk, will deliver dictums if or when she chooses.  As she told Barack Obama in a recent debate when he remarked, it was difficult for him to know who he was running against, Bill or Hill, she replied, “Well, I am here, he is not.”  To that then Senator Obama said as Heads of States may say tomorrow, should Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State, “It is hard to tell who I am running against [or working with] sometimes.”

The sensibility expressed by Barack Obama in earlier times is not singular.  It has been stated and said again.  When an individual associates with the Clintons, direct dialogues are reported to be other than those involved thought the circumstances to be.  Some might say, for the Clintons, the shortest distance between an ambition and an accomplishment is often an indistinguishable path.

As an assistant to the Senator, a former 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue aide stated, when First Lady, Hillary Clinton learned how to be effective as a “backdoor diplomat,”  Now, through her characteristically tough talk, the once Presidential aspirant intends to acquire what might arguably be considered the keys to the second most powerful position in the world.  

A few prominent persons at home and abroad may muse Senator Clinton is not the best choice.  Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former First Minister of the province might say as he had in March when Senator Clinton and her supporters exaggerated her foreign experience record, this is a “wee bit silly.”  Nonetheless, Barack Obama never asked the man who truly brought tranquility to his homeland of Hillary Clinton’s talents.  Had he, he might have heard the tale,

“I don’t know there was much she did apart from accompanying Bill [Clinton] going around,” Lord Trimble reflected.  In the Spring of this election year, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient pondered then recent statements about Hillary Clinton being deeply involved.  His conclusion was, the rhetoric was “the sort of thing people put in their canvassing leaflets” during elections.  “She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience.  I don’t want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.”

Perhaps, David Trimble is correct.  However, Hillary and her adept assistant have capably adopted a different  perspective; Senator Clinton mastered “a lot of the intricacies of these issues before ever joining the Senate’s Armed Services committee.  She’s tough; she had meetings with some Prime Ministers and Presidents where she had to deliver some blunt messages for us.”  Perchance, in the past, the world leader who received most of her brusque communications was her husband Bill.  

This appointment would provide her far greater opportunities to be brash with world leaders.  As benevolent as Barack Obama may wish to be in his appointments, as Lincolnesque as he longs to be, it may be wise to consider the wars Hillary Clinton welcomes, her words, and President Elect Obama’s own  experiences of the dynamic duo of Bill and Hill.  The actual person, the personality, and the prospect of what Senator Clinton brings to the world stage, may not be as magnificent as the former President-elect Obama, First couple, or their supporters would wish us to believe.  

While granted, a team of rivals who work together may be reminiscent of the illustrious words of President Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends … Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,” human emotions may not evoke “the better angels of our nature.”  People, personas, and the power they seek may have wings, and wants more fragile than a seraph.

Confident in his current role, perhaps, the President Elect forgets.  In May 2008, he bellowed, Hillary Clinton has the “bluster” of President Bush.  It is she who was ready to obliterate Iran if provoked, or Senator Obama, if he stood in her way.  

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Hillary Clinton, not Bill, offered the statement “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if it attacked Israel].”  The former Presidential challenger, when she thought she had a chance to sit in the Oval Office and commands said, “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”  Given the opportunity to retract her words, the potential Secretary of State did not.  

“Massive retaliation” is the message Hillary Clinton chose to cling to.  The then Presidential hopeful did not waver.  Hillary Clinton confirmed her truth, reprisals are needed.  Talk of diplomacy was for Senator Clinton naive.

Then, the candidate the people chose to govern expressed a divergent thought.  Barack Obama emphatically stated, “We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and in the meantime have made a series of strategic decisions that have actually strengthened Iran.”  Being more sensitive to slights, Mister Obama offered, “[I]t is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we’re shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we’ve seen out of George Bush.”  In what now appears to be ancient wisdom, the one, or that one that Americans elected to act with restraint affirmed, “[T]his kind of language is not helpful.”  Tis true!

Barack Obama may wish to recall the rants and rage expressed by Senator Clinton not so long ago.  The President-elect might ponder beyond Bill.  Hillary Clinton, on her own, now wishes to serve in an alternative capacity.  However, as she attested to through words and actions, she is her own master.  She will posit her own positions, irregardless of who might be her President, Bill or Barack.  Might it be mused, Hillary Rodham Clinton will officiate, cooperate, or obliterate, whatever she may choose.

Post Script . . .

I know not what to do with my frustration.  Do I merely restate what others have said before I put pen to paper?  I tried to, many times.  In frustration, I have walked away from a composition that expounds upon futile arguments.  I relent.  Barack Obama offered Hillary Clinton a position in his Cabinet.  He proposed she might be our next Secretary of State.  Now he and his transition team vet the New York Senator and her spouse.  However, in truth, as I assess recent history and recall that Hillary Rodham did not wish to be considered for Vice President unless . . . thus, I presume the mere consideration is a confirmation.

For days, the White House transition team told no tales.  They did not confirm hearsay.  Nor did they deny the talk.  Hillary Clinton was offered a Cabinet position in the Obama Administration.  Ultimately, after much speculation, word came down from senior sources unknown.  The former First Lady is “under consideration.” Hillary Clinton will have to decide whether she wishes to abandon her Senate career and pursue another path.

The signs say she is interested.  The smile at a Press Conference as she discussed the possibility, the saucy statements, the legal assistance she provided the transition team, all say ‘Sure, I would love to be Secretary of State.’. Hence, countless conclude.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is the one, the person who will serve at the pleasure of President-elect Obama, and I can do nothing, but voice my apprehension aloud.

Should Senator Clinton become Secretary of State, America and the world will have to weigh each day what perchance, Barack Obama did not wish to, or thought would not be a problem.  Bill and Hillary Clinton are forces not to be underestimated.  Negotiations are not their forte.  The two favor force and power.  Peace is not the prospect they pursue.   If this train leaves the station, and the bell rings, no one will be able to look back.  The damage will be done.  Perhaps, we will live the truth of the words oft cast, “Past is prologue.” Woe is me or we.

Sources of Scorn from the possible Secretary of State . . .