Obama’s Yin, Our Yang

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?

L.J. Holman is an adjunct philosophy instructor at College of the Desert, in Palm Desert, CA. Read other articles by L.J..

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on July 17th, 2010 at 9:34am #

    I think Alexander Cockburn stated it well in his weekly column on Counterpunch, The Fall of Obama: http://www.counterpunch.org/

    His conclusion on the Obama subject was a gem: “What can save Obama now? It’s hard even to identify a straw he can grasp at. It’s awfully early in the game to say it, but, as Marlene Dietrich said to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, ‘your future is all used up.’ ”

    It’s long past time to give it up, and begin the hardwork of transformation.

  2. BartFargo said on July 17th, 2010 at 11:21am #

    “Obama is Yin”? Sorry, but by now I think informed individuals are (rightly) too cynical about this administration to do anything but laugh at the thought he ever truly meant to instill “Change”. Obama is simply one of the most effective liars and front men American politics has seen in recent decades.

  3. Rehmat said on July 17th, 2010 at 12:56pm #

    No wonder 71% of Israeli Jews hate “the Yin”!


  4. lichen said on July 17th, 2010 at 2:58pm #

    Since 99% of Bush policies are also Obama policies, and since the corporatism and expanding war continues, if they are not both “yang” then I guess the difference between the terms really doesn’t mean much.

  5. beverly said on July 17th, 2010 at 3:20pm #

    Bart Fargo wrote:

    “Obama is simply one of the most effective liars and front men American politics has seen in recent decades.”

    Thank you Bart Fargo. You have summed up the problem in one concise sentence.

    Yin, Yang, Yoda, Yada, Yada. It’s got nothing to do with personal style. Obama is doing EXACTLY what his power vetters wanted him to do. It’s also got zilch to do with fear of the white power structure, Israeli lobby, and other assorted boogeymen and excuses made by the gullible and just plain stupid (see Eric Alterman’s recent commentary about how Obama will do better in his second term. Can the enabling Left punditry get any lamer?) If BushBama can’t even name ONE real liberal/progressive/people’s – not corporate – advocate to the Supreme Court (he had two opportunities) how can anyone expect he will do right on more complex issues such as the economy and foreign policy?

    The sooner we stop with psycho babble analysis, start calling out these charlatans, rev up the protests, and find ways to get the public’s best interests back on the front burner the better.

  6. teafoe2 said on July 17th, 2010 at 5:27pm #

    Beverly writes: “Obama is doing EXACTLY what his power vetters wanted him to do. It’s also got zilch to do with fear of the white power structure, Israeli lobby, and other assorted boogeymen and excuses made by the gullible and just plain stupid…”

    I have to agree with your take on Eric Alterman, but if Obumer’s “power vetters” don’t include “the white power structure” and the “Israel lobby”, just who are these “vetters”?
    You think Rahm Emanuel was made up by “the gullible and just plain stupid”?

  7. kanomi said on July 18th, 2010 at 3:10am #

    The author forgets: Existence is suffering, suffering is caused by desire. What is imperialist capitalism if not a system powered by unfettered desire; how could it ever produce anything but a world of suffering? It is the whip and chain in this vale of tears.

    Holman writes, “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.”

    “We” did no such thing. Does he even for a minute think these leaders are not carefully vetted, selected, marketed, and then presented to voters as a “choice” – that the corporatist warfare policies of McCain, Hillary, and Obama weren’t essentially the same?

    Did Mr. Holman not notice how the only real anti-war candidates in the Establishment parties – Kucinich and Paul – were marginalized, vilified and pushed to one side? Or how the corporate media won’t even acknowledge the existence of third parties?

    Could he actually believe if given a real choice between love and peace, freedom and choice on the one hand, and war, death, and the tyranny of capital on the other, we the people would vote for blood and slavery every time?

    Why is he writing this strange article about the charade of democracy, this veneer of participation? It’s like he’s critiquing the paint job on a Warthog ground attack aircraft, wishing it were a different shade of grey, while ignoring the armor-piercing, depleted-uranium spewing Gatling guns strapped under its wings of death.

    This article is from a teacher of philosophy? Yet there is more wisdom in the words of a comedian – it was George Carlin who said, “Forget the politicians, they don’t matter. They are put there to make you think you have a choice. You don’t. You have owners. They own you.”

    Does he really think that Obama sets policies, that he is in charge of things? Look at the response to the Gulf catastrophe and ask what is the more likely scenario here: A responsible leader who is in control of the government and has the best interests of the people at heart; or a powerless puppet taking orders from international capitalists, participating in the cover-up, deception, and suspension of civil liberties on behalf of a multinational corporation with old and deep ties to the intelligence community and banking cartels? Occam’s bloody razor wins again.

    Yin yang, black white, red state blue state, left right – these are word games, illusions, phantoms – these are the false dichotomies created by the enemy to keep professional minds like Holman’s obedient to the machine. He should go read Susan Rosenthal, because obviously whatever he picked up at the philosophy department seems to have come from some sort of discounted New Age book rack.

    The only division that matters is Up versus Down: the masses of humanity who only want peace and happiness and to be left alone, and the psychopathic criminal elite at the apex of the Imperium, armed to the tooth, psychologically incapable of love, and slavering at this new golden chance to rule the world.

    Again, he writes: “All policy decisions, all the needs of the American people, all the problems we face, demand Yang, not Yin.”

    Nonsense – the problems we face demand mass defections to third parties, peaceful non-violent resistance, and dismantling the capitalist empire that has reduced us to indebted wage slaves and made us complicit in global wars of aggression — wars, I might add, which are cynically waged under the banner of the very freedoms we ourselves once held precious and which are being strip-mined away, one by one.

    Yin and Yang, the eternal opposites, are but threads in the veil of Maya: the illusion of separation, the myth of otherness, when in fact we are all the same.

    Eliminate a system that enshrines power and desire, and suffering, too, shall fade away.

  8. hp said on July 18th, 2010 at 9:12am #

    Well said, kanomi.
    Far enough to relate the truth, but not so far as to scare anyone or, God forbid, offend them .

  9. Habu said on July 18th, 2010 at 9:16am #

    What part of “change” does this author not understand? Just having a black president does not pass muster, especially when the people of the land are hurting. Sure, now blame the American people! No more cute explanations. Get real, we have a “do nothing president.”
    This seems like another cynical attempt to rationalize Obama’s tenure, which is as bad as his predecessor. I know he “inherited” the problems but then again, he chose to run for office and at least “change” what was happening then. Americans may not know about Yin and Yang but they want elected officials to solve problems. Really, they could care less about lofty prose especially when there are bills to be paid! They know BS when they hear it.
    Really, I cannot believe this silly article. Seriously, liberals deserve what they reap.

  10. Don Hawkins said on July 18th, 2010 at 9:33am #


    Mitch Mcconnell




    James Inhofe




    Rupert Murdoch




    Lloyd C. Blankfein



  11. Don Hawkins said on July 18th, 2010 at 10:09am #

    Wait how about this human


  12. hp said on July 18th, 2010 at 2:57pm #

    Yin = cheaters
    Yang = cheated.

  13. lichen said on July 19th, 2010 at 4:52pm #

    Cockburn always has plenty of sympathy and excuses for Obama; I don’t.

  14. teafoe2 said on July 19th, 2010 at 5:05pm #

    Lichen, did you really read what Cockburn said in the article? I did, and I don’t remember him expressing sympathy or making excuses for Obama. What I remember is an assessment of what seems to be happening in the electoral arena, which is of at least marginal interest even to me.
    It does look like the Obama wave has spent its force, so the question becomes what will take its place: teaparty, Greenparty, Nader? Hillary, Petraeus?

  15. ro7939 said on July 19th, 2010 at 7:27pm #

    It seems like one must be nuts or naive to ever vote for a member of the two prime political parties.

    God makes nations and destroys them as He sees fit. A “right to exist” is pure lie and myth.

    “Need little, want less, love more” (Jesse’s Cafe’ Americain’)

  16. Deadbeat said on July 19th, 2010 at 8:23pm #

    beverly writes …
    Obama is doing EXACTLY what his power vetters wanted him to do. It’s also got zilch to do with fear of the white power structure, Israeli lobby, and other assorted boogeymen and excuses made by the gullible and just plain stupid…

    tf2 writes…
    You think Rahm Emanuel was made up by “the gullible and just plain stupid”?

    I agree often with beverly but I think she erred in her remarks. The only way to confront whats’ going on today is to be clear and accurate n analyzing the power forces.

    The Tea Party is not a power force. They are being used and manipulated by both the Right and the Left for their own agendas. Clearly the Capitalists and Zionists are the real power forces.