In the Feb. 21 issue of THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, Walter Rogers wrote:
President Obama’s political predicament is
perhaps more serious than he understands or
appreciates. He appears to see opponents as
rivals to be charmed. What he should see are
enemies determined to destroy his presidency. To
save the agenda for which he was elected, he must
give up the pretense of being a postpartisan
professorial president and start acting like an Oval Office tiger.
Can Obama be a tiger? Should he? I basically agree with Rogers, but with a kind of Buddhist caveat. What I’ve always liked about Obama, from the start of his campaign, was his Buddhist quality of not demonizing his opponents, of trying to stay connected with them even when he has to stand in opposition to them. But that does not seem to be working, at least with the Republican opponents whom he has been facing over his health care reform. So he needs to be a tiger and get tough.
But does that mean that he has to get nasty? Usually, we associate, even identify, toughness with nastiness. Buddhism suggests, even warns, that we don’t have to. Obama can get tough and really face off with his opponents, pointing out their inconsistencies and lack of honesty. But he can do that without being nasty toward them — without putting them down or ridiculing them. Or more positively, one can get tough and at the same time show respect and openness towards those we are opposing.
Will that work? I think Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr have shown that it can. They were tough. But they never showed hatred toward their enemies; more importantly, they never acted out of hatred.
So Obama can be a tiger who growls loudly and can induce tremors of fear — but who never eats his prey.