We had a sudden midnight inspiration, one which, years from now, will probably be footnoted in scholarly tomes.
Since the invention of popular film beginning in the 1920s, one of the art’s most endearing and enduring staples has been the Western, usually stories of good guys and bad guys shooting it out, with a heroine or a ranch as prize. There were stock characters in these films, as well as the hero, villain, and heroine: the greedy banker, the too-good-to-be-true school teacher; the hero or heroine’s maiden aunt; the eternal hero’s side-kick.
There was often one other: the half-breed.
Often a figure of fun, sometimes a leader of lost causes, wagoneers, and tracker supreme, the half-breed rarely got the respect he or she deserved, was even more rarely thanked, and certainly was never appreciated for surviving in a West that disparaged him or her, their families, their tribes, white or red. If the half-breed had an interest in romance, he or she was relegated at film’s end to accepting the ministrations of another half-breed, never allowed to step into real life to make his own choices.
What would we call this character today? Certainly not half-breed. But what? How about Mr. President?
With a divided nation, with people shooting at him from behind every boulder, Mr. Obama is trying to track a path towards peace and compromise. No one – neither politician nor international counterpart, — is going to give this guy respect or thanks. He is the target. He is the prey. He is the tracker as well as the tracked. And the homesteads he is trying to protect – our own – seem to want no part of his efforts.
We, too, often have become impatient with our guide’s kneeling at the side of the trail, looking up silently after pointing to foot-prints and making a decision to turn to the east, west, or south.
Truthfully, Mr.Obama’s status – with all due respect — has resulted from half-measures, as well as a general sense of caution because of his background. Because of that, the president has learned – often too slowly – of the treachery of the white man. Apparently he could not believe the reality of his opposition, its determination to keep him from trying to solve the problems of the nation and of certain parts of the world. An oath seemed to have been taken by fearful men in white sheets promising fire and brimstone, and lack of cooperation of any kind.
Worse, because of the opposition, the president has been fearful himself, afraid to antagonize half of the nation for fear of antagonizing the other half. In solving financial puzzles, in organizing meaningful healthcare, in building an educational system that will give the country what it needs: bright, accomplished workers and theoreticians for the future.
He stands at the southern border with one leg in Mexico and the other in Texas. He allowed some military action against Libya’s Qaddafi, but not enough to avoid a potential civil war. He may allow some military action against ISIS, but perhaps not enough to discommode Syria’s Assad. He clouds over when he speaks of Russia, but is unable to decide what next to do.
Because of ISIS and the internationally recognized need to bring it down, our thirties half-breed is excoriated for getting out of Iraq which is what the country urged him to do. He cannot find sufficiently honest and well-trained assistants in dealing with wounded veterans from that war, not to mention from Afghanistan.
In too few films of the time, the half-breed was allowed to shrug his shoulders, show signs of anger or impatience, even walk away into the wilderness leaving behind the needy but brutal white men and women he had been trying to assist to safety.
Because so much of our country seems to regard him as a slave, one who cannot hear properly its demands – despite our intrepid tracker’s awareness of how ill-considered these demands might be – he cannot move out of his fore-ordained role.
As for any genuine efforts to find the darned Comanches, to save the settlers from fire and loss of livestock, to lead wagons over mountain passes in mid-winter to safety and shelter, these have become impossible tasks since so many men and women consider themselves John Waynes or Ward Bonds, Shirley Temples or Natalie Woods, not to mention flame-haired Maureen O’Haras.
Obama has become our own era’s Woody Strode, tall, capable, silent, much put upon and blameworthy for nearly any disaster until he isn’t, which is to say he isn’t any longer alive and then he is eulogized as the sun sets in the west and he is forgotten with the arrival of cirrus against blue skies.
The nation may survive, but the Indians who helped it towards wealth and power and safety are relegated once more to reservation life.