Martin LeFevre: The Enlightenment of Hillary
The Enlightenment of Hillary
The most interesting thing said so far during the torturous Democratic campaign came, improbably, from that sage, Hillary Clinton. Intoning in Pennsylvania on Obama’s remarks in San Francisco about people “clinging to guns and religion,” she said, “I don’t think it helps to divide our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not.”
She’s been consulting with the philosopher in California with whom I had a discussion around this same subject before her husband become president, I thought. We were talking about the possibility of a psychological revolution in our lifetimes, and this fellow, a Marxist, said, “that would divide people into those who are enlightened, and those who aren’t.”
So here we are, less than twenty years later, when no less of a guru than Oprah herself, channeling ‘ask not for whom the Eckart Tolle’s’ latest book, “A New Earth,” and proclaiming “a new awakening and a shift of consciousness across the planet.” The ironies, industries, and interminglings of spirituality, philosophy, economics, and politics are too delicious not to enjoy in all this.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the keystones in the Obama campaign, arguably helping him convincingly carry the South Carolina primary, which launched phase two (or was it three?) of this political season. And though it’s elitist to think of her unfathomably popular show, religiously watched by millions of mostly female viewers, as ‘Doprah,’ I can’t help doing so. And her book recommendations—why, they not only make millionaires out of unknown writers, they’re helping to save the American economy.
So when Oprah says she keeps “The Power of Now,” Tolle’s bible of being next to her bedside, well, you know that something is happening. The question is, what? Do all these Deepak Choprahs (one of the first wizards of spiritual marketing) signal tectonic ‘shifts’ in American consciousness, or are they simply new smells in the long history of American hucksterism?
It’s a fine line between skepticism and cynicism, but adults have to walk that tightrope, though they risk falling into the net of cynicism at times. The alternative is sliding into the goo of gullibility, filled by the spigots of wishful thinking. In other words, hope.
Even so, there is something so shifty, so wrongheaded, about Hillary’s implicit accusation that Obama is ‘dividing’ the country between the enlightened and unenlightened, that it requires unpacking.
The diabolical cleverness of Hillbillary’s charge of Obama divisiveness, when the Clintons are running a velvet glove Karl Rove campaign, is a marvel to behold. But even though the truth is just getting its boots on after the lie has traveled half way around the world, the charge must be answered.
Transformation (a word I’m somewhat loathe to use since it was one of Donald Rumsfeld’s favorite expressions, as in the oxymoronic “the transformation of the American military”) can be defined as the ending of inward division. Therefore, to speak of “dividing our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not,” is to blame the cure for the disease.
But Hillbillary actually poses a very difficult philosophical question. If some members of the human species are truly transforming, and others are not, does that set up another, profoundly existential, division and conflict?
Setting aside obsessive American egalitarianism for the moment (which labels everything ‘labeling,’ and decries and denies anything different, much less excellent, as ‘elitist’), it is incontestably true that change always begins with the few.
But the question remains. As one blogger put it, “when Tolle says ‘a significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die,’” this smacks of spiritual elitism and harps (sic) back to the days of Nietzsche and Nazism.”
Clearly, people who are walking more slowly up the mountain (or are mired in the valley), harbor inchoate fears of a new eugenics program to cull the herd. If anything however, quasi-enlightened folks, practicing ‘radical acceptance,’ are all too often afraid to confront the ravages and rapaciousness of greedy, empty, externally driven pod-people. This is true despite, or because of the plethora of ‘spiritual warriors,’ and the innumerable ‘goddesses’ that form Hillary’s core constituency.
The misnomer of the Age of Enlightenment notwithstanding, what would an enlightened people look like? Certainly they would not think of themselves as a superpower, and plant a silly flag on Mars, like we did on the moon, much less invade a prostrate country in the name of self-defense and liberty and democracy.
But neither would they feel their heart swell when Barack Obama plucks the old ‘shining city on a hill’ chords, and calls for America to once again be “a beacon of all that is good and all that is possible for all of mankind.” That dog won’t hunt anymore either.
So what drama is being played out in the petty farce that the Democratic primaries have become? The Clintons are still in it because they have made the remaining primaries a race to the bottom, the degeneration of personal psychologies.
Hillbillary believes that if you throw enough fecal matter, some of it is bound to stick. They know Hillary’s negatives are pretty much fixed. But they still have a chance, they think, if they can bring Barack down to their level.
Obama is correct however, when he repeats (without the resonance he had a few months ago), “too much is at stake in this election” for it just to be about them.
How can he recover his voice? Even the Christian God he believes in took a day off at the end of a busy week. By not taking one day a week off to rest and reflect, Obama has forgotten what got him here—the yearning in the country for a candidate that can turn Americans toward their better angels again.
Whether that leads to enlightenment or not, it’s certainly something we can all agree this country most urgently needs.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.