A Wendell Berry Dream: Obama Cabinet-Ready

We stood last night on the University of Missouri campus for several hours to see and hear a man I believe will be our next president.

I believe him to be a good man, and wise in ways I’ve not known a politician to be for some decades. I will vote for him.

But I don’t expect him to be all things to all people. I do expect him to chose for a cabinet those who can do the most good for the most people. A president’s advisors probably exert a greater sum total of change in a four year reign than the president himself. Bush was not a good man for the job, his advisors in effect were even worse.

That being as it may, I wondered what Mr. Obama would do with the land ethic and agrarian economic philosophies of a man I admire more than I admire the democratic nominee. I think Wendell Berry’s vision of what can be right about our country demonstrates true wisdom.

We need wisdom in government at all levels–down to the level of households and communities. I hope we will see our future economy based on soil and rootedness to place. I love to imagine Wendell Berry as Secretary of Stewardship in an Obama administration.

For those of who don’t know Wendell Berry, this recent opinion piece (DallasNews.com) about the man’s intersection with contemporary American predicaments is well worth the read, from which the following excerpts

… to all appearances an old-time Democrat, his faithfulness to his iconoclastic vision makes him an uncomfortable presence among the mainstream left and has won him new admirers on the dissident right. He is a moralist hostile both to big government and big business. He is a Christian who can’t be understood apart from his deep religious conviction that humankind is under divine command to be good caretakers of creation — the land, its creatures and each other.


In the months and years to come, we all will have to learn the meaning of limits. Wendell Berry is no dour scold who preaches a joyless austerity. To the contrary, he tells us that what we truly seek in life is not comfort, but meaning — and that you don’t have to live a life of rigorous asceticism to find it. Rather, we only need to order our lives around the ancient idea that happiness depends on virtue — virtue lived in community. We can only be fulfilled by living within the bounds prescribed by our nature, and in fidelity not to our selfish desires but to the greater good of our families, friends and communities.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Beautifully written, I am in total agreement. My mother was recently visiting and borrowed a Wendell Barry book, she could not believe how poetic his writing is.

    I voted for Obama 2 weeks ago on my mail-in ballot. This is the first time I’ve worked so tirelessly (since Feb) for a presidental candidate and I really hope he’s going to be the catalyst for real change in our country. I know he’s really inspires a lot of young people. Yesterday when I went to my neighborhood campaign office ther e were 6 high school boys going out canvasing and some kids making posters. It’s great seeing them so energized!

  2. Fred,
    Thank you for linking this article. There is no doubt in my mind that our country would be in a better place now if our leaders of the last 50 years had been reading, and heeding, Berry. If you are not familiar with it I would recommend this link to the Lannan Foundation site which has a reading/discussion with Berry and Gary Snyder in Santa Fe a few years ago. I was lucky enough to have attended in person.

  3. Stopped by to say hello.

    I voted for Obama about 2 weeks ago, now I’m restlessly waiting for the election day results, and worrying about these terribly false ads, mailings and robocalls, going out all over the country, in an attempt to put McCain in charge of the Bush/Cheney programs so he will continue them. I hope people are seeing thru the lies.

    I also agree Obama is a good man, with the ability to see the big picture, and the knowledge to surround himself with people who will help him lead this country in a better direction.

    Nice to read your post again, I’m afraid I’ve been so caught up in politics and my blog, that I haven’t been by lately. I need to remember to stop by more often, you remind me of how much I love home.