American politics just reeks of Yang. It has always been thus, and we are conditioned to expect it, to look for it, to want it. And when we don’t get it, we pout, then become discouraged, then angry, and then those who vote — reacting to poll numbers — throw out the ones who have disappointed us.
Obama is Yin. He has the characteristics that Daoism tells us Yin — the female, dark, passive, cool, heaven-centered principle — has. Quite the opposite from, say, the Bush years, which were filled with Yang-type people and policies and reactions — brashly directed, white-hot emotions, no quarter given, pro-active to the point of thoughtlessness, and earth-bound, with no looking up at the stars, no dreaming of the future Good. When the governmental response to Katrina’s devastation wasn’t up to the public’s Yang-expectations, we were angry and confused. He basically became a Yin-president during that time and we didn’t like it, weren’t ready for it. Bush quickly and predictably reverted to type and we — even liberals — knew what to expect, and we got it. There were those who wanted change, and got it. Be careful what you wish for.
Obama’s success is often credited to his oratorical skills, but another way to look at his successful presidential bid is that we wanted — or thought we did — Yin. We wanted some coolness, distance, and passivity. After water-boarding and rendition and two ill-conceived and sloppily-managed wars, after in-your-face vice presidents and stubborn, Napoleonic, interference with the rights of the public (remember those “free speech zones”?), we were fed up and wanted something different. We wanted a Yin leader without the psychic messiness and uncertainty and tradition-busting actuality of biologically-female plumbing. Hillary Clinton continued the Yang-style of our politics by being macho and assertive and tough, but she was behind the curve by then. She was only doing what American politics demanded — what most political systems demand: exhibiting Yang. Almost every political woman one can think of has done the same: Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher — just to name a few. If a woman wants to succeed in politics, she must exhibit what the public wants to see — Yang.
Obama was, for the voting public, the archetype of Yin: dark, cool, non-threatening, somewhat distant, flowing at an oblique angle, promising but not didactic. He understood that the American public wanted to try something different and he was in the right place at the right time. Commentators marveled at our “first Black President” and gave us credit for getting beyond race, but really what we were getting beyond was Yang — just as an experiment. Now that experiment is sputtering and it’s our own damn fault.
We wanted a change. We stood at a vortex of political, social and economic distortions and suddenly decided Yang was not working, that Yin was what we needed — and Obama was there at just the right moment in our discomfort and affliction. It could have been a tremendous pivotal moment in American — perhaps Western or world — politics, a change in the balance of doing our business. It might still be, but it doesn’t look good so far.
Obama, himself, is unbalanced, and as any Chinese Daoist can tell you, too much Yin is as bad as too much Yang. His distant, cool, delegative, over-thinking style is in marked contrast to what the public is used to, but it doesn’t work. Not in these times. For example, there is a huge oil company drilling on a federally-leased seabed. Oil gushed from the hole — millions of gallons a day. Eleven people died, and thirty-four percent of the entire Gulf of Mexico was closed to fishing. People lost their way of making a living and paying their bills. The president visited the gulf a few times, walked the beach, ate seafood at a local place and went back to Washington, leaving a retired Coast Guard admiral and BP to take care of business. And the discontent grew. The gushing oil has now stopped, but the Yin keeps flowing.
All policy decisions, all the needs of the American people, all the problems we face, demand Yang, not Yin. We want a balance and we can’t get it. Our expectations drive what politicians say and do because they want to get elected. And we elected a man we thought we wanted, only to find out he isn’t what we wanted, what we need.
Conservatives want Yang, and don’t care to have any Yin at all, and liberals and progressives want Yin with just a little Yang. We don’t seem likely to get a balanced person, given our demanding system, which has conditioned us to expect, to want, Yang.
We have made a mistake if we think that Obama will change and become the bright sun, the high mountain, the blazing log. He will not, and our question a few years from now will eventually be: do we still want Yin in the White House?