Thursday, January 20, 2011


Just finished a delightful book, “The Village By The Sea” by Anita Desai. It tells of a family in rural India - the father is a drunk, the mother is sick and dying, their 13-year old daughter is running the household, her 12-year old brother runs off to Bombay; there are also two young (school-age) girls - life looks very bleak indeed for this unfortunate family.

However, things change. And when things can’t get much worse, they often get better. The trick to survival, the author tells us, is keeping the faith. As long as you have hands and fingers to work, there’s hope.

America has had it pretty good for a long time. There’s nothing here even close to approaching conditions that exist for many Indians even now. We are often told that poverty leads to crime; that religion is all that enforces the ‘goodness’ of man; and if not religion, it is the state that must be the final arbiter in any matter.

In Desai’s book, religion plays practically no role, and neither does the state. People are ‘good’ by nature, despite their faults.

We know where Obama stands on the issue of poverty. For him, the ultimate solution is always the state. It is a philosophy he shares with Hu Jintao, his current White House guest.

Americans are almost evenly divided on the issue. Many believe that rolling back the state will bring about untold disaster. Slightly more believe that the state itself is the cause of disaster.

It is likely that we will keep vacillating between the two extremes for some time to come. Meanwhile change is inevitable. This is another theme of “Village”. Change must not necessarily be bad. It can be neutral. When Obama answers a reporter’s question by saying that “China has a different political system than we do…” he is absolutely right. He was also speaking honestly when he said that he intends to transform America.

Americans should have been astute enough to ask what exactly he meant by that. Did he mean to ease America into the Chinese system, or the Islamic system; or did he envision himself as the author of a brand-new system that has never been tried before?

We are perplexed as we watch our president work. He seems to dismiss the American system entirely. To him it is a hated relic of the past. And yet, much of what he ends up doing is following along in our previous president’s footsteps - clearly without conviction.

Perhaps Obama is impatient. He cannot wait for the changes that will come naturally. He pouts and threatens perceived enemies. He pushes and prods. And yet, he is most popular when he’s on vacation.

As far as the public is concerned, Obama’s principle problem is that he has told us nothing. He hasn’t articulated his plan. We seem to be drifting. He tells us “we’re going there“, and we end up here. And then he tells us “here is there”. It’s not something that inspires much confidence.

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