My wife loves President Obama -- at least, that's how she puts it, and she won't have a bad word said about him in the house. I like the guy, but I have a hard time falling in love with any politician. I'm a metrics man. Show me results -- facts on the ground -- not rhetoric. I also try to be patient about the political process.
Many of my liberal friends are already disappointed with the Obama administration. They think that he has been too cautious in his reform proposals for health care, the environment, and education, and too willing to "put the past behind us" on the Bush era and its record of torture and executive secrecy. I can see their points, but I say to them: give the guy a chance. He's only had the job about six months, and repairing the damage that Bush has done takes time. Obama is still popular at home and abroad. He has political capital to spend -- and he is not yet being pushed in a more progressive direction by any grassroots movements. Summer has begun. The country is politically quiet and even with ten percent unemployment people are thinking more about their private lives than public action.
I know that I am. My younger, only sister died recently, and I attended her memorial service in Washington, DC. The gathering felt like too many self-important people in one auditorium filled to capacity with former and current officials as well as friends and relatives. Most meant well and were there to honor my sister's life, but they wore suits and were very somber. It was the end of something, the departure of my sister for whom I had been big brother and mentor, and I felt incredibly sad. After the service, my wife and I and my daughter and son-in-law took our twenty-month-old grandson to the National Zoo. The place cheered me a little. It was a Saturday afternoon and the zoo was crowded with families on a summer's day outing. We showed my grandson Viggo the elephants, and he stood wide eyed as one very large elephant plodded back and forth carrying and breaking a large tree branch. "Elephant break stick," he informed us approvingly. Then, the elephant began to take large, noisy dumps, and Viggo said loudly, "Elephant's really big poops." That became his major topic of conversation for the rest of the visit, and for the plane ride home. Very basic and apolitical.
I've put aside my bedside pile of economics and foreign policy books and turned to futuristic fiction for summer reading. It's a kind of escape, but not entirely. I've just finished and recommend the novel Ultimatum by Matthew Glass, a political thriller set in 2032. The premise is that the Obama administration fails to bring about reform, and subsequent Republican and Democratic Presidents either make matters worse or let problems linger. When the 48th President, reform candidate Joe Benton is elected, health care reform, education, and infrastructure renewal are still pressing domestic issues, and the US is bogged down in a counter insurgency war in Columbia, and Iraq and Syria are fighting over water rights in the Middle East. As the book opens, Benton has taken office. His major issue is Relocation -- moving Americans from coastal and arid states adversely affected by climate change to other parts of the country. The numbers of internal refugees is reaching the hundreds of thousands. Benton has run on the theme of A New Foundation -- ironic given that Obama has used the same phrase to describe his administration's philosophy and policies -- and he wants to take on global warming in a serious way before the country and the world are overwhelmed by the relocation issue (a secret Pentagon report predicts refugees will soon number in the millions). Past efforts including second and third Kyoto agreements -- lots of talk little action -- have done little to reverse or slow climate change. Not surprisingly, China is the other preeminent power and the new American President must find a way to bring the Chinese to the bargaining table to take radical measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Ultimatum is ideal summer reading -- a good, seemingly realistic political thriller and a cautionary tale of consequences that might await us and our grandchildren if we fail at reform now.
I've also begun reading novels by British "science fiction" writer Ian McDonald about other rising powers -- India and Brazil. In River of Gods and the sequel, Cyberabad Days, the writer depicts the India of 2047 as a superpower of one-and-a-half billion in an age of climate change and technological advance -- water wars, genetically improved children -- and a country that has fractured into a dozen separatist states. Similarly, McDonald's novel Brasyl is a portrait of near-future Brazil and the lives of a Rio TV producer, a self-made businessman up from the slums of Sao Paulo, and a Jesuit missionary on a mission in the 18th century. It won the British Science Fiction award. The books are well written, semi-plausible and offer a non-American-centric view of the near future -- something that is hard to get from reading or listening to US media cover how the President killed a fly on the air, what Newt Gingrich has to say, or the continuing adventures of Sarah Palin and her family.
From past summers, I can also recommend Maureen McHugh's gentle novel, China Mountain Zhang, that offers a glimpse of a future where China dominates the world politically and culturally, and the less plausible but entertaining Assassin series by Robert Ferrigno set in 2040 where the blue states have converted to Islam and the red states break away to form a conservative Christian republic in the south. The first two books, Prayers for the Assassin and Sin of the Assassin, tell the story of the struggle of three political parties for power in the American Islamic Republic (the third volume, Heart of the Assassin, will be published in August).
We also have plans to see a few plays -- even a politically themed one, Farragut North, mainly because Christopher Pine, the actor who plays young Captain James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek film is starring in the production -- and to take refuge and comfort in the music of our favorite singers Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, compatriots of sorts in a generational journey. Sitting under the stars at the Greek Theater in the Hollywood Hills and listening to them sing can't help but renew one's spirits.
As in summers past, there will be backyard cookouts with family and friends, shopping at local farmers markets for food to prepare, and lots of time with grandson Viggo and granddaughter Jasmine. My wife Sue has built a magical tea garden for Jasmine in the front yard where she and her young friends can serve our four dogs pretend tea and real cookies. My step-daughter Molly gave me a choice of Dodger games for Father's Day, and the two of us will pick a day game when Manny Rameriz is back in the line-up. I plan to play as much tennis and basketball as possible, and eat lunches at our friend Fred Deni's bistro, Back on the Beach, where we sit at tables in the sand and look at the Pacific.
Children, outdoor cooking and eating, sports, music, escapist fiction -- it will be a good California summer, a time of renewal and healing. I plan to give hope a chance in all things, even politics, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised come fall with the president whom my wife loves. I wish Sasha, Malia, Michelle and First Dog Bo a fine summer themselves. Barack too.