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We Tried to Warn Obama…But He Wouldn't Listen

By Rabbi Michael Lerner

The defeat of the Democrats choice to succeed Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate is being treated as though there is a decided shift of mass opinion to the Right in the U.S. But it is the Obama Administration, not the people who supported him in 2008, which moved to the Right--in the name of being pragmatists or realists-- in the process emptying their own agenda in regard to health care, environment, human rights, social and economic justice, and global peace of the critical elements that made those programs sound hopeful, and leaving many of their supporters feeling confused, disillusioned, and unable to rally around the politics that seemed so very far from "the change you can believe in" that we had been promised.

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Thousands of us saw this coming, and tried to warn Obama, but he wouldn't listen.

On April 29, 2009, Tikkun and our education arm the Network of Spiritual Progressives bought the entire back page of a special supplement published in the Washington Post on the occasion of the 100th day of Obama's presidency. We warned him that his presidency was in grave danger. Our point was simple and direct: "Your success depends on helping people believe that they can count on each other, that they are not alone in a ruthless world in which people are out for themselves, and there is a possibility of building a society based on kindness, generosity, and caring for each other. Unless your programs actually allow people to feel in their own lives that they are part of build a new society based on love and generosity of spirit, they will soon fall back into the older paranoid view-that we are all competing with each other and have to look our first for number one. And that will likely them right back into the hands of the most conservative forces in this society. It's that simple, President Obama: if your policies do not give people a personal experience of caring and generosity, people will quickly succumb to the fearmongers who compete in the media over who can make people most afraid, most cynical, and most angry. "

Our add went on to tell President Obama that his supporters were beginning to feel mobilized because they cannot explain to themselves and others:

*Why you are bailing out the bankers and the Wall Street crowd rather than prioritizing the needs of people who have lost their jobs and homes

*Why you are not backing single payer (Medicare for Everyone) health reform but are instead preserving the interests of the health care profiteers and insurance companies that make our health care system so costly

*Why you are escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, when you must know that these are no win situations, and when you have even agreed with Rabbi Michael Lerner that the best way to achieve "homeland security" is not by attempting to dominate others around the world in an insane "war on terrorism," but instead by a Strategy of Generosity manifested in the Network of Spiritual Progressives' proposal for a Global Marshal Plan introduced into the Congress by Congressman Keith Ellison

*Why you have failed to bring into your Administration more leaders of the peace, social justice, labor and environmental movements that gave you the critical support you needed to win the Democratic nomination for President.

Our conclusion: "If the people who made your presidency possible stop feeling excited about your present direction, the populist energies that oculd be mobilized for fundamental change will instead by mobilized by the Right for reactionary goals, and you may find yourself without the base of support you need even for your scaled down goals." And now our worst fears and prophetic predictions are coming true. [If you were one of the many members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives or subscribers to Tikkun who donated to make the ad we published possible, I want to thank you for your ability to see what was ahead--and your willingness to back your wisdom with the money we needed to publish that ad!]

But what could he have really done, many ask, given the way corporate interests seemed to have bought their way into power not only in the Republican party, but among Blue Dog Democrats in the House and Senate?

It's true that if Obama had fought for the kind of change he led his followers to believe would be possible, he might have lost. But winning legislative battles is not the highest goal, as FDR and Reagan, the two most influential 20th century presidents, learned.

The most important thing a president can do is develop a worldview and convince the American public of that. Obama could have spoken the truth, told what he saw happening in Washington rather than trying to be a clever inside manipulator-a game that he was destined to lose. Any legislative victory won by compromising away the heart of what you are fighting for isn't worth much, and in any event, even good legislation can quickly be dismantled by the next president if you haven't won over the minds and hearts of the American people--and to do that you need to speak the truth and tell people what we are up against in the system of global capital and its ethos of materialism, selfisness, and looking-out-for-number-one, and what it would take to dismantle it and replace that system with a more humane and caring, environmentally sane and ethically and spiritually coherent society. And Obama could have constantly reminded his supporters that the 2008 election had shown that their yearning for a world of peace and justice, of love and caring and community and real solidarity and democracy, were not the private dreams of an isolated minority but the real needs of the American majority. By making us visible to each other, he would have empowered people to fight for programs that manifested their highest values (if and only if his programs did in fact manifest those values, which unfortunately they often did not).

Now it's up to us, the tens of millions of Americans who really showed in 2008 the powerful commitment we have to building a world of love, kindness, generosity, environmental sanity and caring for others. We have to reconstitute that movement without Obama's help, before the disillusionment with Obama's compromises leads to the resurgence of the Right's policies, the surge of a know-nothing Tea Party movement, and the retreat into despair and self-imposed powerlessness by all those who are questioning whether there's any real possibility of replacing corporate power, materialism and selfishness with a more ethically and spiritually grounded community of caring.

Please don't let your disappointment at Obama lead you or your friends into political passivity...because the alternative if you do that is Sarah Palin and The Tea Party extremists and the haters and fundamentalists, all of whom are now momentarily dressing themselves in the language of populism, but all of whom will actually only give even more power to the elites of wealth and power.

That's why it is so important for you to become part of our efforts to reconstitute the movement of hope--and we can do that with your help. We need your ideas and involvement--and so we've created two conferences, a one day event on the Monday of President's Day weekend, February 15, at the McLaren Hall on the campus of the University of San Francisco on Fulton St. near Clayton; and a longer event June 11-14 at the Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The conferences are co-sponsored by The Nation Magazine, Yes Magazine, Democracy Now, Op-ed News, Peace Action,, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and speakers will include Chris Hedges, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Congressman Keith Ellison, Riane Eisler, Rev. Brian McLaren, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, Peter Gabel, Rev. James Winkler, Rev. Conrad Braaten, Robert Thurman, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rev. Gralan Hagler, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Jonathan Granoff, Marianne Williamson, Paul Wapner, John Dear SJ, John Nichols, Svi Shapiro, Bob McChesney, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and many more.

Please register for one of these conferences now at
(to plan effectively, we need to know very soon if you'll be coming!) If you cannot come, please donate to make it possible for us to afford to create these events (the amount we are charging will not even come close to covering our expenses: donate on-line at or by sending a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave,#1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704).

Please help us spread the word--and let us know if you and your friends, colleagues, community members, would like to help us organize a "Support Obama to BE the Obama Americans Thought they were Voting For" conference in your area of the country! Please read the information at our website--this is not about trashing Obama, but about reconstituting the movement that made his presidency happen, and then moving together to bring about the changes that tens of millions of Americans and billions of people around the world desperately need to have happen.

January 20, 2010


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