Obama, Bruce Lee, and the Mantle of Change
It's called the cycling of opposites: the student becomes the teacher, the hunter becomes the prey, the yin becomes the yang. In "Fists of Fury," Bruce Lee must become a ruthless killer in order to save his extended family from...ruthless killers. Within each opposing side is contained the seed of the other, as the two are destined to flow in and out of their established roles in an evolving battle over time.
And so it has become with President Obama and his conservative rivals. The Mantis-like president campaigned on "Change," but now he is falling victim to the sharp, attacking Crane Style of the Tea Party movement, which pokes him at every opportunity.
The wheel, it seems, is beginning to turn: ABC News reported Tuesday that the Tea Party has seized the "mantle of change":
Regardless of whether they support the conservative movement, 55 percent of Americans in the national survey think the Tea Party can "effectively bring about major changes in the way the government operates." Thirty-seven percent doubt it, with the rest unsure.
After Obama mobilized a broad base of support with a message of economic populism (remember when people talked about that constantly in 2008? Not many do.) the Tea Party has become his main political opposite, defining itself largely in terms of its drastic oppositions to his policies.
Coincidentally, the Tea Party is all about economic populism--just not the kind Obama preached.
So how did this happen? How did Candidate Obama, once wielding the sword of change, come face to face with this public perception?
It would be difficult for Obama to retain the identity of change agent when he's been in charge of the government for two years. Yes, he has sought to institute changes in policy, but at this point, he is the government--not an outside agent seeking to change it, whether or not he's trying to.
In that regard it's pretty unsurprising that the Tea Party, so different from anyone in Washington, is seen as the change agent now. After all, they talk about things being different constantly, in terms of taxes and spending.
Whether the Tea Party's proposed policy shifts constitute changes in "the way the government works," however, is a matter of semantics. What do you mean by "way"?
Which brings us back to Taoism. And Bruce Lee.
There is only one way to combat the inevitable cycling of opposites: accept it. Rigidly seeking to uphold one's identity in the face of a changing landscape is not the way. So the teachings go.
Bruce Lee might not be a bad role model for the flagging president in these times.
Lee learned his Taoist lesson in the aforementioned Fists of Fury when he broke a promise never to fight again. The situation demanded it. In real life, he developed a fighting style with no fixed positions--Jeet Kune Do--a distinctly Taoist invention that enshrined him in martial arts history. It allows its practitioners to execute strikes and defenses without setting themselves rigidly in base forms or years-old campaign slogans.
The transition of Obama's identity is not yet be complete. Just because he's the president doesn't mean he can't change things. But the principle at play dictates that he must recognize the shifting landscape and adapt.
He does not have to be Change personified. Obama can allow the Tea Party to change him, just as Bruce Lee unleashed his fists.