Obama, The Spiritual Cave-Digger

Andrew Sullivan wrote a post on his blog a few days explaining his view that Obama’s first year in office has been a success. 

He calls it “Meep, Meep” because he compares Obama to the Roadrunner and Obama’s enemies to Wile E. Coyote.  The coyote is always convinced he has won until he realizes he’s run off the cliff and has been hanging mid-air for a second or two.  That’s where we are now. 

I agree and Sullivan posted a letter I wrote him, with my analogy, much to my delight. 

“Three years ago my partner and I visited India.  The sites that impressed me even more than the Taj Mahal were the man-made Ajanta and Ellora Caves.  For centuries, Buddhist monks and others, using primitive tools, spent their entire lives carving these caves knowing they would never live to see them finished.  Back home I was working on a lawsuit where corporate directors had committed fraud, doing all they could to inflate the next quarter’s earnings reports.  All that mattered was the next financial statement. 

The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.

For all I know these caves could have been built with child slave labor but our tour guide explained to us that they were built by monks, men who felt connected to what had gone before them, who worked on it themselves, and would pass the work on when they died.  For centuries.  I like to think they saw themselves spiritually connected to the passage of time and they dedicated their lives to that trust.   

I think of Obama that way.  Great change comes at glacial speed.  George Washington didn’t become a king but he still owned black slaves.  So did Jefferson yet that didn’t stop him from expanding democracy with the Louisiana Purchase.  Lincoln waited two years to free the slaves and did so only in the South, exempting the border states still fighting for the Union.  Even the New Deal, arguably the most significant change in our government since the revolution, didn’t include healthcare, didn’t desegregate the schools, etc.  Only a George Bush thinks that the one-man “decider” gets to change things at once, at his whim.  What a fool.  Obama understands what the Bush’s of the world and even Bill Clinton fail to grasp.  A leader is only as great as her or his contributions to the flow of historical progress. 
No way will Obama accomplish all that he wants. But when his time ends, the right person following him will be able to build on his accomplishments, just like the monks at Ellora and Ajanta left majestic but incomplete structures for those that followed them.  Contrast that to Bush, whose predecessor has had to devote much of his time to fixing the mess he left.

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