True change is never easy

My wife is one of those people with pre-existing conditions. Her life of obesity has led to a myriad of problems, chief among them being hypertension and diabetes.

A few months ago, she finally decided that the life she was leading was not worthy of the term "life". She either had to make a change, or die. The choices were that stark.

So, together we embarked on the journey of weight loss surgery. She had considered it before, but fear usually won out; it's not a surgery to be chosen cavalierly; and any surgery has risks, especially with the conditions she has.

Today she went to the surgeon's nutritionist, who gave her a list of things to do beginning two weeks prior to the surgery, and what she would have to do for the rest of her life. Let that sink in. For the rest of her life. This surgery isn't liposuction. Once you undergo bariatric surgery, your life is permanently changed; you can't go back to living the way you had before. This kind of life change requires a heroism that few people possess. It's a heroism that chooses life over death, that chooses the hope of something better over the certainty of growing desperation.

I mention this episode from my personal life because this is a personal essay. But it's also a political essay. In this election, the personal has never been more political.

When we all began this political journey with Barack Obama in 2007, we didn't know what to expect. Indeed, many of us weren't on Obama's side in the beginning. I was an early supporter of John Edwards, as I've mentioned in previous essays. My shift of support to Obama soon after Edwards' implosion was rather swift and absolute; others took a longer trip.

But the one thing he said, over and over, if we had cared to listen, was that the work would not be easy. He couldn't have been more clear in stating that. Any change that would come would do so not from him solely, but from all of us standing behind him, pushing, supporting, creating the type of mass movement which is the only thing which ever effects real, lasting change. FDR couldn't have pushed through the New Deal unless he had a country behind him that was sick, tired, unemployed, and determined to fix things.

Too many of us brushed over that part of his message. And it was tempting to do so. Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime figure. His oratory makes you believe that a different world is possible—one which is more just, more equal, more human in the best sense of that word.

And that world is possible. It is within our grasp.

However, it doesn't fall from a tree like ripe fruit. It has to be grabbed, wrestled with, hammered into a desired shape. It requires work, hard work, the kind of work which voting for and supporting those who want to effect change is only the beginning.

When Tea Partiers impugn "the government", they neglect the first principle of a democracy: we are the government. All legitimacy flows from our hands. Nothing is legitimate unless it has our assent. That "government" has been cast as something foreign and insidious is perhaps the Right's most pernicious achievement, and the one achievement with which Obama has had to contend the most. As a society we've given up our power of agency. If the government is the Other, then it cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be moved. It can only be contained, or ignored, or rebelled against. No change Obama wants to enact will ever be possible until we realize that all power comes from us, all change comes from us, that by our individual wills acting collectively we can remake the world. It's a lesson which has to be relearned repeatedly, because the tragedy of humanity is that it forgets the good quickly, while the bad lingers as a bitter aftertaste.

The past week has been disheartening. We can argue about poll samples and skewing. And Joe Biden has his debate this week, and the next presidential debate is in a town hall format, in which Mitt Romney will have to answer questions without the Gish Gallop. Those two events should move the pendulum back. (And, of course, pollsters are already showing that the Romney bounce is dissipating.) But enough people have bought into Romney's cotton-candy-and-unicorn fantasy land of painless change to again make this race close, even if only temporarily. We are only human. God cursed Adam by having the earth scream against him, and we've rebelled against that fiat ever since. If we get promised something for no cost, we grab at it wildly, even if the promise is logically impossible.

So what do we do? We do what we must, which is work. If you haven't volunteered, do so. If you haven't donated, and you're able to, donate. If you're on social media, push back against the narrative for which the corporate media yearn.

True change—the change promised by Obama—is not easy. It was never said to be. If any of us thought it would be so, we have only ourselves to blame. The form of the world that is to be born is completely within our power to shape. We have to make the choice my wife made: between hope and desperation, between life and death.


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