RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Obama Has Done Some Good, If You’re Scoring

That brisk crispness in the air, trees going dormant, and the mice creeping into the house are not coincidences. The equinox has passed and, as the nights lengthen everything responds. And for us humans, thoughts turn to politics, of course. Isn’t there anything to vote on this year?

Lacking a national election, there’s always evaluation. He’s had a year: What has our man done?

We had hoped, by now, to see Gitmo closing, NAFTA cancelled, the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, fresh foods in all the schools and agriculture programs rewritten to revitalize rural communities. We wanted everything to run by solar and wind power. And we thought we’d have health insurance.

Some folks, not I, were wishing for Olympics in Chicago. And would it have killed him to meet with the Dalai Lama?

So, as far as the tangible goes, it’s hard to see the change. But then we remember that that great ship of state had headed full steam ahead the wrong way for how many years? And we know it takes a long time to stop it, turn it around. And, when you figure out you’re in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. And, after you stop digging, switching metaphors once more, you’ll be in mid-air, and the difference is like summer versus winter.

Take the brilliant appointment of Sophia Sotomayor, the new Supreme confirmed with a bare flurry of discontent. Already, she’s suggested in public that corporations shouldn’t have the same rights as persons. What a concept! If she can get coverage on that idea, countless laws will be questionable for protecting corporations that pollute, endanger the public, steal from taxpayers.

So the administration scores a big plus with the Sotomayor appointment — and wait, there’s more! Public agencies are beginning to see that they have responsibility, and that they should work to protect the public.

The EPA, crippled for years by corporate interference, plans to re-evaluate some old rules regarding health risks. For agriculture, the most significant is a coming study of health risks in atrazine, a popular herbicide applied to farm fields, golf courses and suburban lawns. Atrazine is in our drinking water and has been associated with birth defects and reproductive problems in animals and humans. There may be associations with rising levels of cancer and falling levels of sperm count.

Confirmation of these risks might endanger the corporate love affair with the EPA but that’s how government regulators are supposed to work. They’re supposed to work for we the people, remember?

Further noises coming from USDA confirm that the administration believes that health comes from good food. The first lady’s garden has led the way, and, in contrast to the very few articles in the past about community gardens, farmers’ markets and fresh, local food is getting attention. There have been articles weekly through the growing season in national newspapers. Their conclusion: If you want to know what you’re eating, ask your farmer how s/he raised what you buy! Rather than being described as quaint and antique, writers suggest that urban farming is the wave of the future.

So if you believe that change comes from the top as well as from the bottom, Obama is getting it right. And if you believe in the power of language to transmit ideas and nuance, he’s getting it really right. He talks nice.

Listen to him speaking about Iran and Korea: “I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and a more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations,” he told the United Nations, but if they “choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability ... then they must be held accountable.”

It’s a far cry from the old smoke-’em-out-of-their-holes.

Back in the bad old days, the “smoke-’em-out-of-their-holes” mentality colored all our interactions. Suddenly, the roads were awash with six-wheel pickup trucks and SUVs glitzy with swaggering slogans and pictures.

So what can we, humble fellow servants, do to move this diplomacy along? A first step is, of course, not to patronize the advertisers that push the old and outdated. There’s a cadre of organizations, maybe you’ve heard about this, that wants the administration to fail.

In my case it has meant firing some of the neighborhood service providers that we once depended on. Imagine walking into your accountant’s office and seeing a giant TV turned to Fox News. Or think of the horror of reading an “is he really a citizen?” email pinned to the cash register of your favorite mechanic.

Horrifying, no? First, you have to point out their stupidity, then you have to fire them. Nothing easy about that, but we deserve to live in a place where diplomacy and success are the rule of the day.

And when we do, to hasten the good day along, do your part.

Talk nice.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2009

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2009 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652