I am Barack Obama/Mitt Romney/Adonai and I Approve This Message

Listen to me: America doesn’t need an outsourcing pioneer in the oval office.

Listen to me: When a president doesn’t tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?

Listen to me: _____’s Own 2002 Testimony Undermines Bain Departure Claim.

Listen to me: The article is not accurate.

Charges, denials, countercharges. Reporting, spinning. Disclosing, withholding.

It’s noisy out there. (Or should I say it’s noisy in here, a house with three televisions, two radios, three computers, two daily newspapers, a half dozen periodicals, yes, noisy in here, even here, enclosed in parentheses?)

To whom should I listen? Or should I listen to none of the loudmouths and turn my attention instead to an inner voice that might be speaking softly below the others, below the ceaseless internal chatter, voices expressing uncertainty and fear and their twins, conviction and faith?

*

True and false, on Fox News, Monday, July 16, 2012, Mitt Romney said: “A campaign based on falsehood and dishonesty does not have long legs.” You can watch the clip.

But who speaks when Mitt Romney—or Barack Obama speaks? Who crafts the candidate’s message? Who rehearses the candidate before he sits for an interview with all the major television news stations?

Weighed, measured the words. Calculated, controlled the message. Delivered (in whose voice?). Received.

God says: Remember me? God says: When you called out in distress . . . I heard. God says? Says who?

In Psalm 81, the psalm for Thursday, God says: “I have heard the speech that I had previously ignored. I removed the burden. I rescued you.”

In case the listener—worshipper, gardener, cook, kayaker, broker, cardiologist, patient, poet—has forgotten (in Egypt, in the forty-year wilderness), God reminds. I heard, I removed, I rescued, I tested. Remember me? Listen to me.

And because the present is stubborn and the future is feared and getting close, each candidate constructs a story of his past, a story whose single message is trust me.

*

I Hear America Singing

 

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

 

To Whitman’s singers, add the songs of investment banker, middle school teacher, fast-food worker, case coordinator, creationist, child of an undocumented immigrant, uninsured man in emergency room, Planned Parenthood picketer, organic farmer, white supremacist, executive, clerk, gay cleric . . .

Singing of what matters: taxes, loopholes, regulations, choice, life, jobs, unions, Iran, business, green, marriage, Hispanic, middle, drought . . .

Can you hear them singing, each her unique song, conjoined to form a more perfect union? Are heart and mind wide enough to hold them all? Is the sky?

*

I am Adonai your God. I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message. I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message. I’m a team, a corporation, a nation, a judge, and I approve and I approve and I approve and I approve . . .

*

But:

There shall be no strange god in your midst. You shall not worship an alien god.

You’re not listening, my people! Even after all I’ve done for you.

So I let them persist in their stubbornness. I let them follow their own inclinations.

Them? Their? You were speaking to us. Now you’re speaking about us? To whom?

“If only my people would listen to me; if only Israel would walk in my ways.”

Such disappointment. Maybe you’ve experienced it, too, when no one would listen to you?

The psalm has recounted the past; in just a moment the psalm will turn its attention to the future, the promised reward if only the people would listen and walk in God’s ways: “Enemies of Adonai shall be humbled…with honey from a rock I will satisfy you.”

Between the past, recollected in the face of forgetfulness, yes, but also in the face of the plain truth of impermanence, and the future, envisioned as sweet and satisfying, relief from what is for now unfulfilled, stands the unfiltered, bare, authentic present moment: “If only my people would listen to me”.

*

Life after election. How will it unfold? Will it realize the vision of either candidate? From the stairwell window, on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., I can see the sun but I cannot see January.

Life after election. It will be quieter than now. Hope and fear—mine, yours—may get some relief after words and images sharpened to prick and aggravate them are suddenly withdrawn from cables and ink and air.

Though they will still arise and pass, hope and fear, lust and revulsion, comfort and suffering, pleasure and disappointment over the course of a common day: at the smell of chocolate, the sight of a young driver, daughter or son, backing out of the driveway, the clanging of Wall Street’s opening bell, the explanations, equivocations, obfuscations of public officials, the launching of a shot from beyond the perimeter that just beats the buzzer.

About Richard Chess

Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

  • http://www.shadesofgray.us Lois Bernard

    I too am overdosing on charges, countercharges and outright lies. My head hurts. My heart hurts. I can’t wait until this is over. I really can’t. Adonai Echad.

  • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

    Powerful, Rick. You create song from our country’s cacophony.
    Our public discourse seems more polarized and nasty than ever (but maybe at every election season it seems more polarized and nasty than ever). So how brilliant that you bring in Whitman—as model for gathering all our divisive voices into a single song.
    Your post has been my morning meditation. Thank you.

  • http://kamenetz.com Rodger Kamenetz

    You’re cooking man


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