The cruelest, most violent Samurai in Japan decides he wants to become enlightened. He bursts into the home of an esteemed Zen Master and demands that the Master teach him how to become enlightened.
The Zen Master looks deeply into his eyes and says, “No. You are a dirty, vicious Samurai. I will not teach you.”
Enraged, the Samurai yanks out his sword and places it right at the Zen Master’s neck. He hollers, “Do you have any idea who I am? I am the cruelest Samurai in the world. I can cut your throat and not blink an eye.”
Without skipping a beat, the Master calmly responds, “Do you have any idea who I am? I can let you slit my throat and not blink an eye.”
The Samurai falls to his knees, sobbing, overcome by the presence of a man mightier than his sword.
I get the impression that President Obama would like very much to say to those Americans and traditional allies who are not falling for him, “Do you know who I am?”
I wish he would, because the response would be: “Do you know who you are?”
This piece by Robin of Berkeley, which includes the Zen story, describes an America that is holding its collective breath, and wondering just who it actually elected back in November of 2008.
One senses that the nation is not alone in wondering, that perhaps President Obama himself has no clue who he is, not as an American man, and not as The American President. For decades Obama has gotten by on elegance, a retiring demeanor and the ability to make people see their reflections in him. The first two are gifts; that last is a symptom of a vast emptiness, for a mirror may have width, but not depth.
If Barack Obama, who has made a great secret of his past, truly understood who he is, and who The American President is on the world stage, he would never have journeyed to Copenhagen to have his hat handed to him.
Raised off the mainland, living for a time as a “Jakarta street kid” in Indonesia (where, he told the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff –before the remark was scrubbed– that the Muslim call to prayer was “the prettiest sound,” in the world), Obama is an American President who is not particularly American in character or disposition. He seems not to really understand Americans, or their way -which is a way peculiar to the rest of the word, at once shallow and heroic, capable of great materialism and breathtaking self-sacrifice.
There is nothing wrong with thinking a call to prayer a beautiful thing, but someone thought Obama had revealed too much of himself in that remark, and so it has been stricken from the public record, like so much of Obama’s past. And a man without a past, like an amnesiac, is a man who knows nothing about himself, or the world in which he moves.
The American mind is a duality of sorts. A country founded by displaced nobles and built by the strongest and most resourceful commoners from around the globe, America’s can-do attitude is one that doesn’t mind looking out for the little guy, as long as his own share is a fair one, and his options are open. The American mind is constantly dreaming; even her most newly-arrived immigrants dream, because until very recently all dreams were pronounced “welcome,” and the greatest restrictions were the ones you put upon yourself, or allowed others to put upon you. The dreaming made us exceptional; the dreams made us indispensable.
Bot does Obama understand those dreams? If he does not, then in truth he does not understand the people he undertook to govern. He appears to have decided that “governing” could be accomplished with an endless campaign, meant to entertain a nation enthralled with hucksterism and side-shows; that notion betrays, in meaningful measure, a disdain for the people who placed their trust in him, with their vote.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.
— The Art of Warfare
The Office of the Presidency can either make a man great, or break him, but it will not allow him to coast and remain undefined.
But a lack of definition is what Obama has cultivated throughout adult life. From what little we know of his college days to his Inaugural speech, others have defined Obama for him, going mostly by what they saw – which was usually a reflection of themselves. He has kept himself safely tucked away, voting “present,” both early and often.
The forced definition of the American Presidency is sitting very uncomfortably with Barack Obama. There is nowhere to hide; there are no further personae to be invented and presented. The Jekyll and Hyde who has been singing endless encores of “This is the Moment” to America for nearly three years, has finally come upon a real moment, an authentic crossroad: he must now materialize into a defined entity with a known vector. Will that entity choose to define himself by a willingness to help a nation of free and energetic dreamers sustain the most exceptional and productive dream in history? Or will it choose to remain the poorly-marked outline of an aching, light-consuming void, delivering nothing but silence?
Until Barak Obama decides who he is, we cannot know him, and he cannot know America. And until he knows America, he cannot begin to understand the good-faith majority of us, who are longing not for a god, not for a king, but for a president worthy of our trust.
The voluntarily dissolved American press may be willing to throw the country away for the sake of protecting and hiding a single man whose glories they mistake for their own, but like Obama, his elitist minions do not know who we are.
They never have. Working from outdated templates, all the incurious press have ever known of us are the media-drawn caricatures that they, in their laziness, mistake for a genuine likeness.
But because they do not know us, in the end they will not be able to defeat us.
Q: “Do you know who we are? We are the government that can take away your liberty, your dreams, your very American-ness.”
A: If you knew who we were, you would know that is impossible.
Even if a thing looks like victory on the surface, an unknown opponent can never be defeated. One greater than we, and greater than this crew currently in power in the world, taught that long ago.
We Americans may not know President Obama, but we know ourselves; we know who we are. That gives us a distinct advantage over those in government know neither us, nor themselves.
Barack Obama, who has expressed ambivalence about the notion of victory, needs to first win the battle within himself, if he is to help America dare to shake off a threatening nightmare and begin, again, to dream.
If he can do that, he will be great. If he cannot, his own defeat will be a bitter, deep, personal and lasting thing.