Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Robinson and Obama: the President as Journalist

The decision, reached after what White House officials called an “extensive, lengthy review,” ensures that Mr. Obama will leave office in 15 months without making good on a seminal promise of his presidency: to responsibly end the military involvements started by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and withdraw all American troops from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was the news yesterday, according to the NY Times. What was once a "seminal promise," that he would forthwith bring the troops home, a promise he made to insure his election to the Presidency, was reversed. Obama was wrong on Afghanistan. We're not going to be out during his eight years in office. It's going to take longer than he thought. John McCain was right: announcing our plans virtually aids-and-abets the Taliban. 

Some will say he lied, but everyone has to admit he was wrong.

I wish that weren't true, but it is. John McCain has good reason to crow.

There was more news yesterday, by the way. In case you missed it, you really should read Obama's interview with Marilynne Robinson in the newest New York Review of Books. It's dangerous to make generalizations, taste being as mysterious as it is, but among aficionados of novels in what we now call "the genre of literature," Ms. Robinson may well be the living master. She's written a series of three novels that began with Gilead, the story of a preacher from rural Iowa in the 1950s, and include Home and Lila. They are, trust me, profoundly Christian; yet, they've been published in Persian in Iran.

You read that right. Gilead is profoundly Christian but acceptable even to fundamentalist Muslims because her fiction doesn't preach--it sings.

Ms. Robinson is the nation's most read Calvinist, even if she's only a writer of stories. But she's also an essayist who almost single-handed retrieved John Calvin from the landfill by praising his wisdom in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, which, as you might imagine, is not a page-turner--but then neither is Calvin.

What's amazing about this NY Review of Books interview is that President Barack Obama is the interviewer. He's the one asking questions. It soon becomes clear that their back-and-forth in this part of a longer interview isn't the first time they've chatted. Like a couple of old chess players, they seem to know each other's moves; and Obama is the optimist. Robinson the Calvinist sometimes can't help maintaining that the cup is half-empty when it comes to the human race. 

I think it would be interesting to ask Doris Kearns and Michael Beschloss, Presidential historians, whether any other American President has ever conducted an interview like the one Obama does in the NY Review of Books. Interviews of the President happen daily, but this is news, or so it seems to me: Obama is the journalist, the one asking questions.

Try to imagine Donald Trump caring about what Marilynne Robinson thinks. 

Yesterday's Obama news is soul food for Rush. John McCain was right about Afghanistan. It was dead wrong for the President to believe we could withdraw our forces out and not tip out hat to our enemies. We're staying in Afghanistan.

But what the NY Review of Books interview makes obvious is that Obama not only isn't a muslim, he's a believer. He is not Franklin Graham, but grant him this at least--he's a seeker like no other President before him. 

And a reader, a blessedly thoughtful man.

In 2008 the newly elected President of the United States asked to speak to the school children of America. Some Christian schools--including the one we've supported for many years--chose not to listen and everyone knew why. Had the school tuned in, the principal would have faced a firestorm, and still would today. Millions of pious Christians in this country--and a majority of Republicans--believe Obama is an out-and-out liar when it comes to faith.

It's somehow understandable. After all, back then, my own grandchild, 
a kindergartnersat on my lap and told me in no uncertain terms that Obama kills babies. 

President Barack Obama was wrong about Afghanistan. But what his interview of Marilynne Robinson shows is that clearly he is not a Muslim. It show him being human, wondering about things, about the biggest things--about faith and those who practice it. 

It's amazing. It really is. 


Anonymous said...

Didn't Robinson makes it out to Dordt College a few years ago? I thought I read something about her visiting the English department there. I haven't read any of her stuff--though I will soon. As for Obama, what control does he really have over something like Iraq and Afghanistan at this point?

Anonymous said...

I have read Marilynne Robinson's books and found her to be such an excellent writer. I have read Gilead twice, and I imagine sometime I will read it again. I liked her latest book Lila just as well. I guess that makes me have something in common with President Obama, but that's about where it ends. I wish that he would have tried to be a President of all the people. Instead he has been polarizing and divisive. That is how I see him, but it's not how I thought he would be when he first took office. It seems to me like he has done a great deal of damage, but any time you hear him speak about himself, it is a nonstop litany of just how great he is and how great his administration has been. The problems of this country (still, seven years later) are due to the last President or to the Republicans. So, has he learned anything, absorbed anything at all from reading a book like Gilead, about the human condition? How I long for a President of this country who could genuinely demonstrate humility and wisdom. I read the interview though, and I'm glad you linked us to it.

ronvdm said...

It was fascinating to listen to the podcast. Obama's questions got very long as he tried to fit every nuance he could into the questions. Robinson "handled" him well, I think.
His extreme thoughtfulness is remarkable for a politician.

Anonymous said...

It seems in this post you are trying to convince the reader that Obama is not a Muslim... are you sure?

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