Cry Freedom

I was running with a friend one early morning recently when he started complaining about the gradual, seemingly inevitable, decline of freedom in the U.S. It takes a whole village, government intrusion, I’ve heard it all before, but this time I snapped.

“FOR EXAMPLE?” “Well, making fast food restaurants list the calorie count for every item on their menus.” “Wow, that is egregious, giving consumers more information to make better decisions. Maybe we should go into grocery stores and remove the same nutritional information from all the canned goods and other items. What else?” “Forcing people to wear helmets.”

I guess he’s correct, if by freedom we mean more specifically the right to eat crap without knowing it and the right to crack our heads open when we fall off our bicycles and motorcycles.

Then over breakfast, I kicked on National Public Radio and listened to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera’s story. Nabagesera has just been awarded an international human rights award for fighting for LGBT rights in Uganda where homosexuality is illegal. Earlier this year, her closest colleague, David Kato, was killed, most people believe, for being openly gay.

And then we have the stirring examples of Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemenis, and Syrian democracy protestors willing to die so that their fellow citizens might have the right to assemble, vote, and speak freely.

The U.S. is imperfect, but thanks to our constitution, we can assemble, vote, and speak freely about our right to eat crappy food and crack our heads open. And we can choose where and how to live, work, worship, and raise our children.  We can criticize our elected officials without fear of reprisal and we can tweet and blog until our heart’s content.

Maybe Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly should lead an Arab Awakening tour abroad so that my right wing nutter friend and his friends can better appreciate the freedom they seemingly take for granted.

Ideologues

I have some close friends whose politics are almost the complete opposite of mine. Our friendships endure because their personal attributes trump their whacked out politics :). Occasionally, one likes to send me ultra conservative mass emails “just to keep you up to date on what we crazy right-wingers are passing around these days to keep our morale up.”

Sunday’s was a video mocking how successful Barack Obama has been considering he graduated from a “community organizer community college”. Occasionally, I’ll crack a smile. They’re rarely good, but this one was particularly bad.

For satire or comedy to work, there has to be an element of truth in it. President Obama has an impressive education history that I suspect some of my friends on the right would wrongly attribute to affirmative action.

Much of the credit probably goes to his no-nonsense mother who demanded excellence. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the President and his wife, whose parents were equally demanding apparently, are holding their daughters to the same high standards. The right won’t acknowledge this, but the President hasn’t used race as an excuse for not achieving. What’s more traditional and conservative than two married parents holding their daughters to very high educational expectations? The power of their personal and parenting examples seem lost on the right.

I don’t know, but my guess is my conservative friends can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that Obama’s well-educated and a committed and caring parent because it doesn’t fit into their intensely negative narrative they’ve crafted. Acknowledging these points might lead to a slippery slope of having to concede other things that might compromise their conservative street cred. Short of eliminating taxes, privatizing everything, and doubling the size of the military, there’s nothing Obama can say or do over the next 2.5 or 6.5 years to change their negative opinions.

For someone who sees subtleties, nuance, and ambiguity around every corner, this is exasperating, but I have to concede that for every right-wing ideologue, there’s a left-wing one somewhere that, because of their passionate dislike of his policies, never could bring themself to acknowledge George Bush the man had redeemable qualities.

Somewhat related to this, can’t help but notice an increasing percentage of lefties are becoming disillusioned with the President. He’s brought some of it upon himself by raising expectations so fast on so many fronts. Take all the references to a “post-partisan era” as just one example. And there’s some truth in the overarching criticism that too often he acts as if he’s still in campaign-mode, trying hard not to offend instead of leading boldly. And I still wish he’d narrow his focus.

Our collective expectations for our presidents are probably too high. Maybe our problems have become too complex and our politics too corrupted by special interest money for any president to achieve Lincoln or FDR-like greatness anymore. Maybe we’d be better off pursing personal excellence closer to home, in the ways we listen, parent, educate, care for other others, work, and conduct our lives more generally.