Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak!
Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 19, 2008
In Friday’s New York Times, David Brooks considered the causes and outcomes of Barack Obama’s seemingly even and unflappable temperament — his “homeostasis,” as it were — and suggested two types of presidencies Obama’s style might shape. Obama, Brooks observes, has the class origins of a Clinton or Johnson, but without their self-defeating needs for affection or respect, and the evenness of an FDR albeit without FDR’s characteristic ebullience. According to Brooks, Obama’s seeming emotional distance could lead to a presidency that is a needed island of calm and rationality or to one that is an island of ineffectual isolation. An Obama victory will enable us to find out which.
So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority. And, for quite a number of Democrats, Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are unsettling suggestions of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular. I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.
Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not-yet-fully-ripened tropical fruit served with a sauce of thick sweet soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili peppers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp. Roedjak‘s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory flavors is more than culinary. Roedjak restores equilibrium even while satisfying the senses. Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of individual emotional turmoil. Domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions begin to escalate. On the symbolic level Roedjak embodies much of what is positive in the wisdom and values of southeast Asia.
Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundamentalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the Indonesian facets of the Democratic presidential candidate’s personality and past, his formative years on the island of Java and his being part a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan, Kenyan and African American ones.
In Java, outward emotional evenness and formal displays of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages. Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat. Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.
On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture. The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali. They are part and parcel of classical Javanese theater and dance and of raucous puppet theater and shadow plays. In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.
And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers. Join me for a mango, anyone?