American Zen and the Art of Democracy Maintenance
“Friends, bloggers, fellow countrymen- Lend me your monitors. We have come not to bury Obama but to praise him…” – Mike Flannigan, November 5, 2008
Dateline --- Late November, 2008 The United States has just elected and is preparing to inaugurate Barack Obama, its first African American president. Hope springs eternal in the national breast throughout a land ravaged and abused in many ways and on many levels.
Yet, virtually the only political journalist not writing about this very historical changing of the guard is Michael Flannigan.
Mike Flannigan, the fictional protagonist of my new novel, American Zen, is about to have a week in his life that will shrink his macroscopic priorities to the personal. Far from the comfort of hearth and home, kith and kin, Mike embarks on a spiritual, zen-like odyssey with three long-lost friends (and one new one) and bandmates under the most viscerally dramatic of circumstances.
And it takes a full week and about 375 pages of selective narrative during these seven days for Mike to realize the truth of his life both past and present, his friends’ lives and the very elusive nature of truth itself.
I’ll leave it up to Mike to tell you in his own time in his own words as to what those revelations are. Yet some of those life-affirming lessons overlap and share some circumstantial soil with the future of the post-Bush blogosphere. The shift to many is imperceptible but I spotted it immediately after the election and I cannot say that I am encouraged by the emerging trend as I am of the news filtering in from the Obama transition team.
And what we’re gleaning from President-elect Obama’s team does promise a (dare I say it?) radically different approach to federal governance than that to which we’ve been treated these long eight years.
Guantanamo detainees will be moved and integrated into an as yet unspecified criminal justice system, thereby closing down Gitmo as per Obama’s campaign promise.
Wealthy campaign donors will not be given plum ambassadorial posts.
Real economic solutions that don’t involve neverending tax cuts for the abovementioned.
A responsible, discriminating delegation of responsibilities and posts based on the merit system.
Concrete steps toward the end of our involvement in Iraq.
And, best of all, the promise of the respect for the rule of law, with at least 200 Executive decrees under King George II eyed and/or slated for demolition.
Having said that…
Thousandreasons.org, mere days after Tuesday’s election, closed its cyber doors. The primary reason was lack of time and resources for webhosting but Phil, the proprietor, also stated that he felt his duty in providing links to stories detailing the perfidies of the Bush administration was fulfilled with the advent of an Obama administration.
Around the same time, News Hounds put up a rare open thread stating that they were burned out and going on vacation. Crish promises a redesign but the other A list blogs show a stupefying lack of cynicism that made the liberal blogosphere the potent force that it’s been since the 2004 election.
Several times in the past, looking forward to January, 2009, I’d addressed the issue of what would happen to the blogosphere when the man who’d almost singlehandedly created it, George W. Bush, was finally out of the Oval Office. I knew years ago that the American public would be so sick of the GOP and its scorched earth policies that the next President would be a Democrat.
So where would that leave us? What would we do when the limousine finally stops and lets us in?
Barack Obama will be the first President of the United States who’d actually posted on a blog. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to speculate that other Democrats will eventually come around to embrace the liberal/progressive blogosphere (albeit through the anointed Ones of the A list).
Yet I’m seeing a softening of attitude, feet getting closer together, almost as if we’ve forgotten that the Republican party still exists (an easy enough mistake to make, admittedly, given their dismal showings in the last two elections).
It’s one thing to be guardedly optimistic about the incoming Obama administration- it’s another thing entirely to let down our guard, to shelve and closet our healthy skepticism that tried and failed yet still did its damnedest to keep the unique criminal class known as the Bush administration as honest as possible.
We need to maintain our vigilance over our freedoms or lack thereof. Our nation will soon be led by someone who voted for retroactive immunity for telecommunications giants who’d been spying on us without warrants at the behest of the Bush administration (and need I remind you that the next president is a constitutional law professor who shouldn't need to be reminded of the 4th amendment?).
And, however pure President Obama’s intent, his measure of success will be largely defined and predicated on what the new Congress that we’ve just voted in will let or not let him do. And the Democratic-led 110th Congress has stabbed us in the back with machetes more times than we can count.
We are still the electorate and we need to remind those whom we elect that we are reviewing voting records. We, along with a criminally negligent press, are the watchdogs of democracy. I see a softer, gentler blogosphere, greatly relieved that we will firmly control two branches of our government with a certainty of regaining ground in the third.
Yet who among us would be disappointed if George W. Bush, after strutting down Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th, firmly convinced in the greatness of his own presidency and licking his chops at the prospect of all the money he’ll make on the lecture circuit, will be standing in the docket at the Hague along with Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld?
Mike turns his attention to personal matters even as the nation is changing more rapidly than it has since September 11, 2001. We are doing the same thing (politics is local, as Tip O’Neill once famously said, and the same goes for economics. The number one issue this past election, the economy, comes down to pinching pennies in every household). Mike learns that his life isn’t as bad as he once thought it was and one of the epiphanies he learns is the power of forgiving yourself and others, even at the temporary expense of family and vocation.
Counseling forgiveness is a good idea in theory. That doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off Capitol Hill. If Obama seems too good to be true, then perhaps his Senate voting record and past statements bears closer scrutiny. The same applies to a justifiably distrusted Congress.
The secret, the meaning behind epiphany is not merely to learn and move on but to let those revelations continue to guide and counsel us in our spiritual journeys.