Barak Obama's rhetoric in the 2008 presidential campaign was often inspiring, but it was never so intoxicating that it overcame my skepticism about the changes that his presidency would bring. Too often the specifics of his agenda included such oxymorons as "clean coal" and "safe nuclear energy." His promise to retool America's automobile industry to build clean, fuel efficient cars ignored the larger damage that automobile transportation does to our lives and land. His commitments to widen the war in Afghanistan and "rebuild a strong 21st century military" both seemed to me to acquiesce to the militarism that is paralyzing our social, economic, and moral progress. Obama seemed to me a smooth talking Democrat, good on many social issues, but unable or unwilling to challenge the fundamental assumptions that are leading us and the world to the brink of a dreadful dark age.
Since his inauguration, I have been cheered by a number of his executive decisions, the signs he has given about the direction of his policies, and what appears to be his genuine understanding of the importance of the rule of law. No doubt, a page has turned in American politics as well. We are lucky to have seen an eloquent spokesperson gain national prominence when lesser politicians might have failed to break from dismal engagement with neo-conservative blather.
The pleasant experience of Obama's first days led me to pick up the 280 page campaign book Change We Can Believe In just to better understand what he had committed to in writing. Sadly, there is little in Change that causes me to rethink my skepticism about his presidency. The fiscal demands of the recently passed stimulus package may create significant pressure to reduce the Pentagon's budget, but I have yet to hear Obama or anyone in his administration openly identify military spending as the wasteful disaster that it is.
More significantly, Obama has accepted the notion that our current fiscal crisis and recession must be addressed by making the economy grow again. This approach is simply "kicking the can down the road" writ large. Obama does not seem to realize or is not willing to admit that we are now confronting the physical limits of the world's resources and that "sustainability" must replace "growth" as the watchword for all economic decision making. Adopting policies that depend on growth are bound to fail. Instead, we must recognize that our focus must be on repairing and improving the quality of life for everyone and not merely increasing the Gross National Product.
My greatest hope for the Obama administration is that it will inspire people to learn the pleasures of civic engagement and that communities of mutual support will find local ways of adjusting to a new style of living that respect the Earth and its inhabitants and accommodates the limitations we now face.