An Open Letter to My Favorite President Ever with a Pointed Message from a Cartoon Lion: You Can Do Better
Dear President Obama:
In Walt Disney’s 1994 film The Lion King, there is a Kenobi-esque moment in which the deceased head of the pride — Mufasa — appears as an apparition before his reasonably accomplished yet somewhat misguided son Simba and utters the words: “My son, you are more than what you have become.”
I write to you today as someone who not only voted for you, but also actively championed you, campaigned for you, and called disgruntled old ladies in rural Pennsylvania for you on election eve. Simply put, I think the world of you. I think you have beaten all the odds, and you have shined every step of the way. I think the world is a better place with you as President, and I think your clearly demonstrated intelligence and leadership as Commander in Chief has not only elevated America’s standing in the world, it has set the bar for nations for years to come.
That said sir, with all due respect… and I recognize that there is indeed a lot of respect due, I write to tell you that you can do better.
Barack, you can do better.
Don’t get me wrong, whatever you do with this Presidency, you’re still a Lion. You’re still — pardon the verbiage — a complete bad-ass.
But oh, Mr. Obama, you can be so much more.
The challenge, in the complex mix of factors you’ve inherited, is to not succumb to the lowest common denominator but to lead, truly lead, with purpose and with clarity of vision. We all face situations in this life where we make a choice to either live fearlessly according to our own truth or to accept what is possible… given the context.
Given the context of our economic crisis, it is understandable that you would make the choices you have on federal spending. Given the context of the egregious attacks of your malcontents, it is understandable that your beloved health care bill would have to be trimmed down to have a chance of passing. Given the context, it is understandable that you would seek a middle ground on climate change legislation. Given the context, it is understandable that you would stay the course of your foreign policy predecessors and make no significant changes in our relations with China.
All of this is perfectly understandable.
Yet those of us who voted you into office demand more of you. We did not vote you in to be perfectly understandable. I hate to invoke the “C” word, but sir, we voted you in because you PROMISED change.
Mr. President, there are two defining and pivotal issues on which you can truly shape the course of history. I speak not of education and health care, for which I will provide a simple equation and assume you know what your GOP counterparts seemingly choose to ignore — in order for us to stay competitive, everyone needs to have both. For free. That this is even a question in the 21st century truly boggles the mind.
Nor do I speak of Afghanistan, in which there are other simple formulas at work. No foreign invader has ever won a war there. And, well, as a rule — the less occupiers you have in a country, the less people get killed. Go figure. The more we give them a reason to fight us, the more they will.
I speak of China and the Environment.
On the Environment, I will be brief. Suffice to say this: your “small government” critics apparently have absolutely no concept of what is coming. Small government, when it comes to the necessity of remolding ourselves to meet the environmental challenges ahead, will soon be utterly obsolete. Governments will be forced to spend huge dollars to deal with climate change, water shortages, rural depletion and urban overpopulation. What is needed, now, is a massive restructuring and an an equally massive investment in environmental technologies, green jobs, and alternative energy. And I mean massive. This is not about “clean coal”. This is about turning entire industries — like one in Michigan I could mention — into sustainable propositions. If we lag behind on this, the consequences… well sir, the consequences will not be as dramatic as a Roland Emmerich film, but neither will they be as boring.
I recently returned from the Himalayas, where everyone, from humble villagers to guest house owners to tour guides, is visibly shaken from the lack of snow. The aptly named third pole — the 80,000 strong glacial matrix of the Tibetan plateau that is the source of life for literally half of the world’s population — is in total peril. This is scientific fact.
Which brings me to China and Tibet.
The Tibet issue is not one of “human rights.” It is a defining issue of our age. It is about the fundamental right of human beings to live unfettered. Millions upon millions of people died in the second world war so that our global community could unite on a simple principle: everyone has the right to freedom. Freedom to think, express, congregate, build, elect, share, move…. And now — because of our short term ignorance, greed, and hubris, the emerging world superpower is one that honors none of these freedoms. To say that this bodes darkly for humanity is a massive understatement. We have sold the sacrifice of our grandparents down the river. Sold it. And that sir, is an utter abomination. No nation should be allowed China’s violations of freedom. It is utterly unacceptable. And President Obama, you must take them to task for it, while anyone still can.
As a lifelong Tibet supporter, I have endured 15 years of meetings with Senators, Representatives, and Chiefs of Staff and have been told roughly the same thing in every single meeting. We have to engage. We have to give them what they want. We can’t upset them.
Suppose for a minute that on the occasion of my first meeting I had a newborn son. And suppose that child had been raised solely according to the philosophy of those meetings. “We can’t upset him. We can’t offend him. His feelings get hurt when we ask him if he’s cleaned his room….” What would I have now? A 15-year-old, overly-entitled, spoiled rotten, immature, selfish, brutal bully with the keys to the car. Beijing’s leaders deserve none of the leeway we have given them. None of it.
Today, I saw the statement you gave after the meeting you had with China’s Hu Jintao. To call it a statement would be to give you far too much credit. Sir, they invoked your ethnic heritage and your love and study of one of the greatest men in modern history and used it to justify one of the greatest abominations of the modern era. Where is the outrage?
You are more than that tepid diplomacy. You are MORE than the man who stands idly by while lovers of truth and justice are slaughtered. You are meant to be their champion. And if not you, in this rapidly declining world, then who? Who???
If the United States of America does not rise to meet its potential now — if YOU do not rise to meet your potential– in this time, the time when we are MOST challenged, then you of all people know the consequences. You know that we may not in fact get another opportunity.
This briefest of windows is your time. It is your time to not just be remembered as America’s first African-American President who did what he could, given the context. It is your time to become — in the words of my favorite cartoon lion — what you are. What you were born to be. A truly great man.
I am counting on you. We are counting on you.
With love and respect,