Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barack Obama -- truly 'Wild at Heart'?

Over the last couple of years I've become a fan of John Eldredge, author of the runaway best-seller "Wild at Heart," whose subject is Christian masculinity. Eldredge's primary premise is that men need to be "initiated" -- trained, tested and readied for battle -- in order to become real men. Having done so, the truly Godly man, in his view, takes the reins of power not primarily for his own benefit but for others'.

After rereading the sequel "The Way of the Wild Heart," and especially the chapter referring to the "King" -- that sequel actually discusses the numerous specific phases of a man's development -- I think I now have a better idea of how and why now-president-elect Barack Obama was able to win the 2008 election. It's not simply that he ran a near-flawless campaign or that he simply wasn't George W. Bush -- in comparing the two men, I notice very different life stories.

Obama, the namesake son of a Kenyan economist and whose mother was a free-spirited white woman, certainly had his challenges, but even with his globetrotting -- his mother eventually remarried and moved them to Indonesia -- I think he was forced to find a sense of his own identity (one of these days I'll read his books, then I'll know for sure). Of course, we all know he graduated from Columbia University and, later, Harvard Law School; but instead of going to a posh law firm he moved back to Chicago to become a community organizer, eventually also teaching Contitutional law at the University of Chicago before entering politics.

While in Chicago he began laying that foundation by cultivating allies, first in the city's South Side and including Marquette Park, the scene of race riots 30 years ago (which I found impressive). All the while, by many accounts, in every instance he took the the time to listen to people, even those he didn't agree with. I see a maturity and security in that approach simply because life is that way, and he built that career while avoiding much of the notoriously seamier side of Chicago politics. That maturity connected with much of the public, which was convinced that he "has what it takes" to run a country -- and that cool will serve him well next month when he's inaugurated. I also see his foreign policy as progressive and even-handed, eventually regaining the trust of allies on virtually every continent. In short, with apologies to the campaign of John McCain, he is ready to lead.

On the other hand, when I consider George W. Bush, the current president, I see just the opposite -- an "unitiated" man who became president to try to prove himself as a man but eventually failed. And in fact, he's been pretty much a failure at whatever he's done -- a mediocre record at Phillips Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School; part-owner of the Texas Rangers; governor of Texas (which has little real responsibility or power). Today we know that his priority No. 1 was to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in part because of a failed assassination attempt on his father when he was president, in my book an abuse of his office, and we are now witnessing the fruit of that flawed decision.

His advisers, furthermore, were little more than "yes-men" who uncritically subscribed to their common right-wing ideology and refused to consider other ideas. Eventually he was done in by his botched response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf of Mexico region, specifically New Orleans. All in all, Bush wanted the power and perks of the office but wasn't fit to take on the responsibility that came with it -- and, in the process, he has taken down the Republican Party and the conservative apparatus that runs it, not to mention besmirched the name of Christ (because he identifies himself as an evangelical Christian).

None of this, of course, is to say that Eldredge endorsed Obama -- I'm certainly not aware of Eldredge's political leanings or even whom he voted for (if he even voted at all). But I do see Obama as having gone through the necessary process of growth, which means admitting mistakes and correcting course when needed, that Eldredge has spelled out. I can't say the same for Bush, who seems to have everything handed to him and, at least during the first six years of his presidency, refused to admit he made errors.

In short, it could be that Barack Obama is truly "wild at heart."

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