In a personal crisis, when I cannot see a way out, sometimes I’m assisted by a “voice from beyond” which in my imagination comes from my long-dead mother Jennie. I’m not normally mystical, it’s just that when peer pressure drowns out my own my own gut-feelings, I need her there as a voice of reason and support.
I voted for Barack Obama with my heart in 2008, and along with my family worked phone banks for him. My heart told me despite doubts – there were many – I’d go for the candidate whose mother was most like mine. Ann Dunham, Barack’s mother, was like my Jennie a single mom who once survived on food stamps, and – again like my mother – raised her son in deeply felt, ahead-of-her-time, liberal feminist New Dealish values. On the campaign trail candidate Obama repeatedly claimed his mother as “the dominent figure in my formative years…the values she taught me continue to be my touchstone…”
So much for campaign flapdoodle.
“Whatever is he thinking?” friends of mine now ask, disappointed by the President’s systematic torture of the many pledges he made in the primaries. I hear it differently. Up in heaven, where she undoubtedly resides, what is Ann Dunham saying to her son about the short road he has traveled from shining promise to pragmatic incoherence?
For the moment, put aside populist-rage issues like the bank bailout scandal, Obama’s feebleness on jobs, his wounding compromises on health care, even his assimilation of George Bush’s “war on terror” displaced (sometimes word for word) onto the doomed adventure in Afghanistan.
But sometimes a “smaller” issue is a deal breaker.
This past Thanksgiving eve, as if to avoid media scrutiny, the President’s aides quietly announced that he would continue George Bush’s policy of refusing to honor an international antipersonnel landmine ban, known as the Ottawa Treaty, signed by 158 nations. (The holdouts include the US, Russia, China and Iran.) Instead of outlawing these horrible weapons, we punted by sending an “observer” to the 1000-delegate Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, a landmark Convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
According to an American Medical Association study, an estimated 24,000 people, mainly civilians, are killed or ripped apart by landmines and “unexploded ordinance” (cluster bombs) each year worldwide. Mostly the victims are the rural poor, many of them children of the same age as the President’s two daughters. They get blown up by ammunition left behind in current or former war zones like Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia, Vietnam and Kosovo. It’s so easy for farmers or their kids to wander onto a plowed-over mine field and confuse a yellow-finned cluster bomblet with a relief package of food of the same color dropped by parachute. Kids especially are drawn to the toy-looking munitions. They die, from shock or bleeding, far from any hospital; survivors suffer brutal amputations and blinding.
As a senator, Barack Obama voted for the ban; as President, he is against it.
My fantasy is that if she were alive today Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, whose passion, while working for UN and aid agencies, was rural development, that is improving the lives of mainly black-and-brown country people – the bulk of land mine victims – might camp outside her son’s office, Cindy Sheehan-style, asking for a better answer than the one he has so far given (“national defense needs”) for refusing to destroy weapons that blow up the poor, the unwhite, the luckless.
CLANCY SIGAL is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org