Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird — and at Obama

by Evert Cilliers (aka Adam Ash) and Wallace Stevens


In 1917, Wallace Stevens, to my mind the best American poet of the 20th century (sorry, Sylvia Plath fans), published one of his most famous poems, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” What with Barack Obama being our first black President, and also a leader who elicits a variety of responses, from the sensible to the absurd, I thought it might be interesting to look at Obama through the lens of this poem.

(Note: this piece is shorter than my usual 8,000-word epic rants. Last month I wrote a 17,000-word saga, mixing stories about my strange family with social commentary and snippets of the history of South Africa, where I grew up. I didn't get the usual fifty plus readers comments, but the ones I got were so enthusiastic and heartfelt that I am honor-bound to repeat this personal anecdote/social commentary form again. I thank all those 3QDers who read the whole damn thing and expressed their thanks. You make me love what I do, and make me love 3QD for letting me do what I do. BTW, if you're brave enough to climb this Mt. Everest, google “The World Cup, my White Afrikaner Skin, my Fascist Parents, Mandela, Obama and Forgiveness.” And now on with a mercifully shorter piece.)


Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the eye of the blackbird.

The problem with Obama is the problem with democracy, as famously described by Churchill in a Commons speech in 1947, after the British voters repaid him for saving civilization by throwing him and his party out in 1945: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Obama is the worst form of president, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Today there are a few pols that are mildly interesting — Nancy Pelosi, Ron Paul, Anthony Wiener, Paul Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, Jeb Bush, Barney Frank, James Webb, Newt Gingrich, Alan Grayson — but none to match Barack Obama. Among the snowy mountains of Washington, his is the only eye worth catching. He can still summon the mojo to enchant a crowd (to see him in top form, google “realclearpolitics Obama: Republicans want to bamboozle you”).

However — and this is what makes Obama really interesting — he appears to have lost his progressive base somewhere between Air Force One and the White House urinal. Obama may be the smartest guy in any room, but when it comes to keeping his loyal base loyal, he has moved into full possession of an ear of tin, a tongue of lead, and a brain of plank.


I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.

Looking at candidate Obama in 2008, three mindsets pertain:

(a) Obama was the hope of the universe, the dawn of a new day, a progressive nation changer of unfathomable potential, an avatar of Dr King, Gandhi, Mandela and FDR.

(b) Obama was a socialist demon Nazi Hitler Lenin Antichrist Arab Muslim, the real-world manifestation of super-conservative America's worst hates and fears.

(c) Obama was a blank slate on whom we could all write ourselves; he was whatever you wanted him to be, a projection of your innermost desires, the change that was us that we were waiting for.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.

It was a small part of the pantomime.

How significant is a president in the life of a nation? Bush-Cheney took a big part of the American pantomime, and turned it upside down. They started with a reasonably happy country and a sizable budget surplus. Eight years later, their stumblebum idiot asshole pantomime left Obama with the worst legacy any leader has ever inherited, with the possible exception of the Germany that Adenauer inherited from Hitler. It wasn't even autumn in America: more like the deepest darkest Ice Age. Eighteen months into Obama's presidency, the nation is so mind-frozen, a majority of us want to give the keys of our car back to the GOP, whose policies drove us into the ditch in the first place, and whose current single two-word policy (“cut taxes”) promises to add three trillion to a deficit that by some estimates has now reached 13 trillion, as Obama tries to spend us out of a depression.


A man and a woman

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird

Are one.

The Obamas are the first First Couple since forever of whom it is blatantly obvious that they're really hot for each other. There are nights when that presidential bed must be creaking like an outhouse door in a gale. Two attractive people in their forties who both work out … can you imagine the marathons? You don't want to? Well, I do, and I get a really big smile when I think about it. Most of us don't think about it, but subconsciously we all do, and perhaps, as a nation, we are consequently bonking our partners harder and better and longer.


I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

The attacks on Obama from the right do not consist of beautiful inflections or innuendoes. They are mostly blatant and brutal and outright lies. Obama is a socialist? Rosa Luxemburg would spin in her grave. Obama wants to take over your life? He must have signed at least fifty bills undoing the various ways in which Bush-Cheney took over our lives. Obama wasn't born in America and is a Muslim? During the campaign they said he was in his Christian church to hear his pastor say “God damn America”, and last year they complained about his liberation theology. Lie upon lie upon lie. But because our electorate includes a big chunk of the dumbest voters on earth (probably the same dumb Americans who picked for their American Idol a guy whose name I can't remember over Adam Lambert), these idiot asshole LIES of extreme dumbfuckery aimed at supreme fuckwits of the lowest dumbfucksterism SEEP into the general discourse as incessantly and quasi-mysteriously as SAND sneaks into your genitalia when you're doing the wild thing on a beach blanket. At this point, only 42% of Americans believe Obama was born in America. 41% of Republicans are sure he wasn't. If you repeat the stupidest lie often enough, a nation as dumb as we Americans will believe it. After all, we believe in UFOs. And in psychics who channel the dead. And in astrology. Madame Blavatsky is alive and well. The whole enlightenment and the Age of Reason passed us by. Or it all died when Lionel Trilling died. One thing we don't believe in is common sense, because we don't have any sense in common.

No matter how pretty the tune whistled by the blackbird, the land is rife with the discordant squawks of black crows ready to peck out our eyes, and with the yelps of hungry vultures waiting to pick our bones bare.


Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass.

The shadow of the blackbird

Crossed it, to and fro.

The mood

Traced in the shadow

An indecipherable cause.

Verily, 'tis true. Darkness hovers from sea to not-so-shining sea. Like Kafka's frozen lake, we're still awaiting an ax to break the crust of icy cold. Our Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — upon whom Obama has a man-crush, the most unfortunate political crush since the Czarina's crush on Rasputin — our darling Timothy rattles on about how Obama and he saved us from a great depression, and points to the fact that Detroit is back — what an amazing place is Detroit: socialism works better there than capitalism! — and that our financial system is working again — no matter that the Fed printed or accountancy-magicked 13 trillion greenbacks to hand over to bankers who've had less control over their greed than a newborn has over its poop, and no matter that you or I could save Iceland, Greece, Africa, the rainforest and my alcoholic aunt with that amount of soiled lucre. Then darling Timothy says there's more work to be done, but meanwhile he and Obama have spent less than $500 million on the people who are ACTUALLY suffering.

Must be Barack and Timothy have figured their need for Wall Street cash in the 2012 re-election campaign is greater than their need for the votes of the eight to fifteen million folks out of a job and the up to 30 million underemployed, and the votes of the friends of those folks. Maybe they figure those folks will feel too beaten down to even bestir themselves to a voting booth.

Whatever they figure, we plebs should have realized One Big Thing back when Reagan slashed the top marginal tax rate from 60% to 28%, and when meritocrat Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and obliterated (a) the wall between traditional banks and Wall Street casino speculators and (b) any and all oversight over derivatives. That One Big Thing is this: being in the Washington-Wall Street-Pentagon bubble is so deliciously cozy and removed from Main Street reality, it will turn Jesus Christ himself into an anti-American-anti-regular-folks demon who enables the worst ambitions of our corporate-welfare taxpayer-subsidized vampire Satans.


O thin men of Haddam,

Why do you imagine golden birds?

Do you not see how the blackbird

Walks around the feet

Of the women about you?

Obama went on the morning show The View to shore up his support among the important demographic of white women. Presumably he's got black women in the bag: after all, he's married to the most popular political figure in the land, his wife Michele, who handily beats her charismatic husband in approval ratings. I watched Obama on The View, and when they chit-chatted, he was his charming and witty self, and the women of The View and the audience lapped it up like puppies at a bowl of Half and Half. But most of the time Obama went into his political talking points.

Oy bloody vey. Obama and his speech writers had forgotten to inject any humor or charm into the talking points, and Obama jawboned his brand of blah-blah in an unfortunate stentorian mode, like a professor faking his enthusiasm in his Friday-morning lecture to his bored students because he can't stop thinking about how he's going to bang his favorite Ph.D student that afternoon on his desk.


I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms;

But I know, too,

That the blackbird is involved

In what I know.

There are those who think Obama is involved in just about everything they know. These lasses and lads go by various names. Pundits. The commentariat. The chattering classes. Journalists. Op-ed writers. White House correspondents. They chatter to each other and to various politicians, lobbyists and other influentials in a bubble which exists deep inside the butts of their masters, the people with actual power. It's really odd to see these pundits beat a different dumbfuck narrative to death every few weeks. Remember the one about Obama not showing enough emotion about the BP oil spill? Or the one about Sarah Palin being confused about why she resigned as Governor? The weird thing is, their various narratives rarely have anything to do with substance. If it did, they would have to attack their masters, and then they would lose access.

It's really weird that it's taken a semi-fringe mostly-music magazine like Rolling Stone to do the substance avoided by our MSM: Matt Taibbi's takedown of Goldman Sachs, which led to the MSM suddenly helping to ruin the reputation of GS, as if the scales had been ripped from their blinkered eyes; Ken Dickinson's takedown of Ken Salazar's corrupt Big Oil-friendly MMS, which hasn't led to Salazar being fired; and Michael Hastings' exposure of the Afghanistan War as a farce in The Runaway General, which did get General McCrystal fired.

I guess Rolling Stone values keeping their access to the truth more than keeping their access to the assholes in power. The rest of our punditocrats are like those kids in high-school who brown-nosed the teacher. Suck-ups to power. One of them, so rich and high-born himself that he doesn't need to suck up to politicians quite as much as most of his colleagues do, goes by the name Anderson Cooper. I'll never forget how Cooper sniggered on his CNN perch at some poor dude who was caught impersonating his dead Mom to pick up her social security check: “And he did that for $8,000 a year? I don't get it, that's peanuts.” Well, Coop makes millions a year, besides the millions he inherited, so for him $8,000 is a year's tips for the guy in whose hands he spits his gum, but for the rest of us $8,000 a year can make a big difference. There is no way Anderson Cooper or any of these highly-paid big-mouths can EVER walk in our shoes or EVER represent our interest. Pity them, folks. They probably never see any roses to smell past the hairy sphincters of the inside-the-Beltway-buttholes in which they're ensconced till the twelfth of never.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,

It marked the edge

Of one of many circles.

There are a number of circles around Obama. His family. The twelve people on his Blackberry. His Chicago cronies. His White House staff. His cabinet. His friends in the House and the Senate. His friends on Wall Street. His friends in the Pentagon.

But the big question to ask about Obama's circles is this: when Obama reads those ten letters every night from regular folks presented to him by his staff, who presumably plough through hundreds or thousands of the missives, and probably pick out the most poignant ones, or those most apt considering what that month's legislative push is about, or those that pertain to the agenda the staff are trying to get Obama to get behind … ah, the vicissitudes of access … when Obama reads these letters, to what degree does that connect him to Main Street, or to those broken-down neighborhoods across the tracks from Main Street?

We know Elvis Presley was connected to the black music he parroted so incredibly well, because he grew up one street away from the black ghetto, and went and hung out in black clubs to soak up the music he loved right at its source. But how close is Obama? He did receive a little taste of poverty when he lived in Indonesia a few years, and could see rich guys with three cars on one street and struggling beggar urchins a block away. But he went to the most pukka private High School in Hawaii. He went to Columbia, then did a two-year stint as a community organizer in Chicago — a pretty big brush with the damned — and then it was back to the Ivy League bubble of Harvard where his ambition was so naked, his nickname was “Mr. President” (true: I heard it from a guy who was pals with a couple of Obama's Harvard classmates).

Obama will still throw rhetorical bones to the middle-class (“the Recovery Act gave America the biggest middle-class tax cut in history”), but how about the underclass? OK, maybe they don't vote. Well then, how about the unemployed? OK, they get extensions of unemployment benefits. Well then, how about the federal government directly employing the unemployed on infrastructure projects we so badly need? Didn't FDR do that? Why doesn't Obama do that? OK, maybe Wall Street or the GOP or Blue Dog Democrats don't like it. Well, if you believe that, may I remind you that while the KGB were executing and gulag-ing Russians by the millions on Stalin's orders, most Russians firmly believed that if Stalin only knew about these atrocities, he would stop them.

Here's the unvarnished truth: Barack Obama doesn't like the idea of the Federal government employing out-of-work Americans to fix up our infrastructure. He's one of those Democrats, like Clinton, who believes the best way to get anything done, is to subsidize private enterprise to do it. He actually TRUSTS private enterprise to be socially responsible. In other words, Obama is a damn asshole. He's a better asshole than most, but he's still an asshole. It takes an asshole to appoint a Supremo Asshole like Larry Summers as your top economic advisor. What has Larry Summers done in his new job, having failed upwards from being booted out as President of Harvard because he said stupid stuff about women, insulted Cornel West (who could actually do with a bit of insulting), and shielded one of his friends who was advising the Russian government on Harvard's dime, while this friend had investments in oligarchical ventures, a conflict of interest so egregious it's a wonder that he and Larry didn't end up in jail for fraud?

This is what Larry Summers is doing: he's making sure that nobody gets access to Obama who doesn't toe the Larry Summers line, which is that Goldman Sachs is better for America than a company of saints would be, even if that company's employees consisted of Abe Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, FDR, Dr King, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook, Michael Jordan, Katherine Hepburn and Jesus.


At the sight of blackbirds

Flying in a green light,

Even the bawds of euphony

Would cry out sharply.

Ah, the sharp cries in the night over Obama. When he started, I liked him, but I liked Hillary more. Number one, she's a bonkable woman who has a great cackle of a guffaw (yes, this stuff does enter into my value judgment, but I hasten to add that when it comes to women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, drop-dead beauties over whom I'll admit to having had extremely pleasant objectified daydreams, I wouldn't vote for them, or want to have lunch with them, since they're no deeper than the little pond that forms on my apartment steps after a night's rain). Number two, Hillary knows her stuff. Boy, does she know her stuff. Number three, she's quite a straight-shooter for a pol, and tough as nails, too. And number four, she hates the GOP as much as I do. “Vast right-wing conspiracy”: those be golden words as far as I'm concerned.

But then I saw one of Obama's campaign speeches on TV. Halfway through, the fucking tears were pouring down my cheeks. Damn, I thought, I love this man, because he loves America the way I love America, and he makes it OK to love America heart and soul again, after those Bush-Cheney bastards had been crapping all over my idea of America for eight long years. So I became a bawd of euphony for Obama, but pretty soon after the Inauguration, when it dawned on me that Obama had two economic war criminals, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, running our economy, my euphony turned to squawkery, and I've been ranting and raging ever since, a progressive who is more enraged than most, because as an ex-South African I can appreciate what one guy can do to move a country in the right direction, as Nelson Mandela did. I guess I had naively wished that Obama would do the same. His campaign speeches had put that many pretty stars in my eyes. Yes, I believed. Yes, I was an Obamabot. Now I see him get one chance after another to step up to the plate — the Wall Street meltdown, the healthcare debate, the war in Afghanistan, the BP oil spill — and every time the polls show the MAJORITY of voters want BIG CHANGE, in other words the actual nation of actual Americans want our leader to make an actual difference in our lives, a difference this leader of ours promised to make, which is why we fucking VOTED for him, for chrissake … and what does Mr. Hope-and-Change do, time after time after time after time? He wimps out.

Speaking as a guy, it's enough to make me want to jump the bones of a tow truck.


He rode over Connecticut

In a glass coach.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For blackbirds.

It's bizarre, I live in Connecticut, after living in Manhattan for 30 years. I haven't seen Obama capable of being pierced by a fear, though. People say he acted a little intimidated the first time he met the top Pentagon brass, but I think they're mistaken. Obama has always known he's the smartest guy in any room, so maybe he was just taking the measure of these guys in an area where he had zilch credibility, having never served in the Army and not even being known as a guy who threw a mean punch in Junior High. One time, and one time alone, we got to see Obama's unscripted smarts at work, for more than an hour. That was when the GOP stupidly allowed their Q and A session with Obama to be televised. It was so embarrassing to the GOP folks that Faux News cut their broadcast short. Even the Faux News folks, who are thicker than planks cut from trees that have been dead five years, could see that Obama was eating the GOP's lunch for breakfast and dinner.

To me, that TV was as good as the time Johnny Carson had Angie Dickinson as a guest, and they got so flirty and hot for each other it was obvious that they were going to jump each other's bones the second the program ended, and the time Johnny Rotten was interviewed on the late-night show Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, and Snyder started by asking Johnny Rotten a rude question, and I saw Johnny lean back with a wickedly rotten gleam in his eye, asking for it, are we? and then Johnny, in his cockiest cockney way, proceeded to bait Snyder for many, many hilarious minutes to the point that Snyder got totally red in the face and was having a hard time containing himself, just aching to take a punch at Johnny, who was having the best time ever, driving his pompous TV host batshit crazy.

Obama smacked the assorted GOP buffoons as deftly as he smacked that fly two years ago, and afterwards picked them up in his hankie and threw them in the trash. All the IQs of the GOP leaders together didn't add up to half of Obama's. Yep, Obama is smart. It's not just his command of the facts, easily as broad and deep as either Clintons'. Keith Olbermann tells the story of how a bunch of left-wing journalists, usually a tad brighter or at least more wonkish than your standard right-wing blowhard, met with Obama at the White House, and how he, Olbermann, was so blown away by Obama's command of all the facts about anything these wonkish lefties threw at him for more than two hours, and Obama's marshaling of said facts, that Olbermann went from his original estimate of Obama being among the thousand smartest guys in the nation to the hundred smartest, and ended up thinking, heck, maybe he's the smartest of all ever.

However, smart as he is, Obama can mistake the shadow of his equipage for blackbirds. Here's why. Obama has surrounded himself with Ivy League academics and public service experts, most of whom have never built a business from the ground up or had to meet a payroll. They're all supersmart and have thought a lot about the real world, but they've never really lived in it. Talk about a bubble: there is no worse a bubble than the bubble of the intellect. The privileged, entitled intellect. These guys and gals KNOW they're right, and that makes them only a tad less idiotic than religious fundamentalists. We're talking the Taliban of the Brain. Brainy Obama surrounded by all these brains. Outsized cerebellum linked to outsized cerebellum in a circle jerk of outsized cerebellums.

No wonder they're fucking up. No wonder they're losing sight of what Americans outside the Washington bubble want. It's the best and the brightest all over again. Remember, the smart guys who got us into Vietnam and kept us there till over 50,000 Americans were dead, as well as over a million and a half Vietnamese and Cambodians? For fucking what? You tell me. For some damn construct in their brainy brains that was as ridiculous as the medieval construct of trying to figure out how many angels could dance on a pin. McNamara and crew actually thought that if they kept stepping up the number of American troops in Vietnam, they could get to a point where the Vietnamese Commies would go, “that's just too many American soldiers, we surrender.” A calculation more idiotic than calculating the number of angels doing the Hanky Panky on a pin. McNamara and his fuckwits of numerate intelligence figured there's a number out there in the universe of numbers that's assignable to a people's love of their nation; their calculations didn't include the calculation that when people are fighting for their country against some hated invader, they are likely to fight harder than the invader, and likely to fight to the last man.

This is a basic fact of human nature known to the biggest dickbrains in the galaxy, but it had escaped the American brains in the White House and in the Pentagon because they were living in a bubble of their own bizarre fundamentalist braininess.

When it comes to Obamaland, Barack and his White House have constructed a similar bubble. A really peculiar bubble, because it's made of of these equal but disparate parts: Reinhold Niebuhr (you have to fight evil, you can't appease it); the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and White House staffer Cass Sunstein (people can be nudged by legislation to do the right thing); Arpege advertising (promise them anything but give them a meaningless bauble); Cicero (when all else fails, our man will save the day with a speech); Milton Friedman (private enterprise does everything better than government can, and too big to fail is OK because the free market takes care of everything); Nuremberg Trial amnesia (don't prosecute the elite for torture and other crimes, just prosecute the lower minions who followed the orders of the elite); Ayn Rand (the rich deserves our attention more than the poor, because they make political contributions and vote, and the poor do neither); and Murphy's Law (if it's broken, fix it just a little, so everything can and will go wrong again).

Here's why this bubble is so scary. The only reason our half-a-loaf President is palatable is because his predecessors have set the bar lower than the pond scum in the backyard of a used-car salesman. It's not that difficult for a man of Obama's IQ and charm to rise above pond scum. But two questions loom like the Ghosts of Roads Not Taken:

One, does Obama have the Dumbo-sized ears needed to heed the voice of American majorities who told him that they wanted the public option in their healthcare choices, that they wanted the Volcker rule in financial reform, that they were ready for big changes in energy policy after the BP oil spill, and that they wanted the heck out of Afghanistan? Or does Obama have the genitalia of Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma and other Big Vampire Parasites so high up his butt, his ears hear worse than my 93-year-old Dad, who hasn't switched his hearing aid back on in three years because the blah-blah of his second wife and her family bore him to insensate geological substrata?

Two, does Obama have the Godzilla-sized gonads needed to do what the country is asking for and more? Does he have the actual leadership balls — like FDR, like Mandela — to elevate a nation of traumatized dumbfucks above their dumbfuckery into a future worth having? The jury is out on those two question. They're so far out they were last seen having a picnic with some bearded dudes in flowing robes and AK47s in Fuckyouistan.

The Obama bubble operates like restraints — unbreakable S & M restraints — on the size of Obama's ears and balls; that's the problem with the bubble, and if Obama doesn't burst it, or fill it with more real-world brains (which only Joe Biden has a modicum of), his presidency will never get bigger than his bubble.

I once did advertising for GE Corporate, and my favorite executive there was this blue-collar guy who had no degrees but had worked himself up into the rarified midst of the senior MBA managers, because he knew better than anyone else how to run a factory profitably without any labor problems. I'll call him Jerry. Headquarters had sent Jerry these two Wharton MBAs, a girl and a guy, a year out of school, in their early twenties. One time we show up there, and Jerry tells us the Wharton MBAs have a presentation to lay on us. So they have this slide presentation and they talk us through some “shareholder value enhancement” stuff, or whatever crap was in vogue their final year at Wharton. I tried not to fall asleep and eventually this assholic presentation was over, and we thanked the pair and they left the room. Our favorite exec is looking somewhat embarrassed.

“What the fuck was that?” my creative director asks.

“What are those idiots doing at GE?” I ask.

“What are YOU doing with them, Jerry?” asks my art director.

“I've got no choice,” says Jerry. “I've got to look after them for the next two years. I've got to take an hour out of my busy day every day to try and teach them how to run a business.”

Hey, GE is still alive and more well than many others. Maybe they know how to turn assholes into decent managers. But if those Wharton MBAs were the cream of the crop that year, I have my doubts.

In fact, I still feel sorry for Jerry. And I feel sorry for America, because I know that in Washington they're expert at turning decent people into assholes, and because I know that the Ph.D-smart dudes and dudettes around Obama, and Obama himself, are not that much smarter about running a real country than those two greenhorn MBAs from Wharton were about running a real business. They'll get it half-right and half-wrong and we won't know the difference, because the last guy who got it more right than wrong was FDR.


The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying.

Well now, this here blackbird, is it a positive or a negative force? Is the river moving in order to water thirsty flora with its munificence, or is it moving to drown some unsuspecting creature? Does the blackbird have the power to move the river or does the blackbird fly because it sees the river moving? Is Obama moved by events to do something, or does Obama actually cause the moving of events? Here's another question: is the Obama we see on TV the actual Obama, the Obama that our five senses can apprehend, or is there another Obama we can never know, an Obama outside our five senses, a dog-whistle Obama, an unknowable Kantian Obama-an-Zich? Is the Obama that I'm disappointed in, a shadow Obama? If I came face to face with the real Obama, say in Lacan's mirror, would I know him? Would I recognize him? Would he be the Name of the Father? Or would he be a social construct that would fade away in six years' time, as evanescent as Jerry Ford?


It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow.

The blackbird sat

In the cedar-limbs.

Indeed it is snowing in America. A thick blanket of metaphorical and somnolent ignorance covers the land. We have been asleep for three decades. Our elite has lulled us and consoled us and stirred us against each other as they reaped the benefits of our somnia. We've had it with Washington, but Washington is all we have. We've fallen out of love with Obama, but we see no compelling alternative to his half-a-loaf presidency. We thought he would bring us maybe three or four big changes, but all we got were hundreds of little changes. Maybe we will bestir ourselves to demand those big changes in no uncertain terms. Maybe we won't.

It is hard to say what we will do. We are Americans and we will be caught forever between two poles: the freedom of the individual and the responsibility of being the keeper of our sister and our brother. Individual freedom vs. social justice. In our minds, we've set this up as a false binary, when each needs the other to make both stronger.

Sometimes we have known this: when we enshrined freedom of speech in our Constitution, and religious freedom, and the separation of Church and State; when we fought among ourselves to banish slavery; when we fought together to have labor unions; when we agitated for Social Security; when we marshaled our industrial might to help rid the planet of the scourge of Germany's Hitler and Japan's militarist regime; when we marched for Civil Rights; when we advocated for Medicare; when we marched against the Vietnam War; when we clamored for women's liberation, and gay liberation, and access for the disabled.

That was when our individuality and our commonality came together in a single yet diverse community, and we summoned our better angels to create a better America. That was when the United States of America showed what it means to be United. That was when we could be proud to say we're American. That was when we were as big as our dreams.


Our better angels have been asleep too long. And so we ask, of our diverse gods and non-gods: may our better angels rise again, and spread their wings, and lift us high.

May they rise again, in enough American hearts, to make a difference.