Two 2009 disappointments: Bono and Obama

People at the top are easy targets. In time, their indiscretions, foibles, and misdeeds become scratch, available for we plebes to pick over. And inevitably it seems, in the picking, larger inconsistencies surface.

Of course all of us are guilty of inconsistencies, but our foibles don’t get the kind of white-light scrutiny of that of a person of prominence. As well, the gleeful temptation to quickly believe any juicy piece of news that serves to dislodge the mighty is always there. So it’s important that a humble approach be employed before accepting a craven pallor cast upon someone by some news-bite. Yet, taking these things into account, and after giving deference, there are some inconsistencies that have to be called into question.


In an earlier post, I wondered whether Barack Obama could withstand the Pentagon. I’d hoped he could. Turned out he couldn’t. The winnable war language came first, then came rumours of escalation, then the actual ramping up of troops. Then, December 10, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. Give him credit for parsing his acceptance speech carefully enough to admit to, if not quite irony, at least a touch of puzzlement. I have no issue with his speech. It was the speech of a reasoned and tactful American president. But the context was more than unfortunate. And invoking Gandhi and King, as he does here, while accepting that the escalation of violence is a way to peace, is, if not an egregious bit of incoherence, simply not right.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

Obama should have taken a pass. Finally, I fault the Nobel committee. A peace prize shouldn’t go to the person escalating Bush’s war in Afghanistan, shouldn’t go to the leader of a country whose armies occupy Iraq, and are set to surround Iran, and who attempts to block a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Bono, for his measure, champion of the poor, decrier of the unjust, spent part of 2009 sheltering his ample income from taxation. Well, many celebrities do it. But many celebrities don’t then go about railing against governments for their lack of compassion and lack of support for the homeless and hungry. What Bono’s tax avoidance does, in Ireland at least, is place pressure upon the hoy-poly to take up the tax slack – tax, part of which goes to social programs helping the poor. Bono also invokes King and speaks vaguely of world peace but perhaps doesn’t make the connection that King made between poverty and violence.

Are we justified in expecting more? I think so. Understanding that the rarified air breathed by public figures is full of particulates not always of their own making, we should nevertheless continue to expect some semblance of walk/talk harmony.

Good thing–for all of us–there is always the potential for rehabilitation and redemption. As we do our own inner/outer reconciling, here’s to hoping these two influential people do some internal auditing and reset their own ethical example.


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