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Since Obama announced his candidacy for President, I've been involved in as many political debates as I have theological debates. It's no secret that I am an Obama supporter. As an Obama supporter, what I've found amazing is the people who criticize Obama no matter what he does. I think they would criticize the way he ties his shows. Anyone still remember the flag pin flap when Obama was called non-patriotic for not wearing a stupid lapel pin (that his opponenets don't wear all the time either)? Friends who berate Obama without ceasing like to point out to me that the "left" did the same thing to George W. Bush. And they are right. One thing that has become increasing apparent to me through these discussions is how much the point of view we bring with us impacts how we judge a thing. Most of us would like to think we are objective, that we can look at an issue with clarity and say that this is a good or a bad thing. But, that "beginner's mind" as Buddhists call it is a rare and elusive thing. Beginner's mind is looking at a thing fresh and new without preconceived notions. Unfortunately, many of us don't even seek after it. We go along slaves to our prior conditioning without even realizing it. The vast majority of us, in the vast majority of situations judge that situation pretty much reflexively based on prior conditioning.
Confession time. I disagree(d) with George W. Bush politically pretty strongly. He's a conservative. I'm a liberal. What typically happens in that situation is when the person on the other side of your philosophical aisle does something, you tend to immediately view it as the wrong move. Conversely, when someone who is on your side of the aisle does something you give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if you don't immediately understand why it was the right thing to do, you assume it must be because of the person who did it. I have to confess, I did not give George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt. I tried. And there were many good things he did while in office. But, if I'm being honest, for me to praise something he did, it had to be pretty clearly "good" in my eyes.
What really got me thinking about this in the last couple of days was the administration's plan to change the student loan program. Currently, the program is handled mostly by the federal government paying subsidies to private lenders to give loans to students. The administration is proposing having the federal government make the loans to students instead (they do made a minority of the loans now) and "cutting out the middle man". The loans are a sweet deal for the lenders and the federal government says they can save over $80 billion over the next 10 years by making this move. Immediately several Republicans/Libertarians/Conservatives jumped all over this calling it a massive expansion of federal power and a takeover of the student loan program. They held this up as an example of why the government should stay out of health care. (huh?) I read their claims with some amazement. Shouldn't they be happy that the federal government is making an attempt to save money? Shouldn't they be happy that the federal government is pulling out of a program where they are paying subsidies to private institutions? Obama promised to pay for his programs by eliminating federal spending waste in other areas and he makes a proposal which seems pretty clear it will save money and the reaction is that the government is overstepping its bounds. Without going into the gory details of the discussion that followed, what I found fascinating is that I believe if the Bush administration had made this same proposal those same people would have been thrilled. There are, of course, two sides to this story. You can look at it either way. It's an expansion of federal government because they are going to make the student loans themselves. Or, this is the federal government proposing a concrete way to save money and it's less involvement in the private sector leaving market forces to determine how banks deal with student loans (if they do at all). Same story. Same set of facts. But, two very different ways of looking at them. And, unfortunately, the way we choose to look at them often depends on how much we like the person or the party proposing the action.
What's my point? One of the things I'm trying to do is break through the conditioning to see things more clearly. The first step in that process recognizing that you bring all of this baggage with you to every situation. Obama's only been in office a few months. But, he's made a few blunders that I've called him out on and, even though I support him overall, I'll continue to try to keep a critical eye when I look at the things he's doing. Keeping it real, of course I'll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tell people I am a a liberal by description not by definition. I don't always take the liberal position on a topic. But, my beliefs tend to put me on the liberal side of most issues. For my friends on the other side, I'd just like to suggest that you try not to go with your first reaction to everything proposed by the Dems/Liberals and Obama. Take some time. Think through as to whether or not the proposal is a good or a bad thing based on the merits of the proposal rather than the person proposing it. Join me in trying to discover that beginner's mind.