Vail Daily column: Setbacks make us stronger |

Vail Daily column: Setbacks make us stronger

Jack Van Ens
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Jack Van Ens

President Obama likes basketball. He plays pick-up games with White House staff. Sometimes, competition stiffens when the president shoots hoops with a pro. The NBA star defensively over-plays the president on the left because he favors this lane to the bucket. The president, a southpaw, sometimes surprises a player guarding him by driving for a lay-up on the right side.

The president practices in politics what he’s learned playing basketball. With Republican defenses over-playing what they scorn as his “leftist policies,” Obama drives ahead. Although he suffered midterm election set-backs in 2010 and 2014, the president acts like an NBA team making a run after being far behind. During his final quarter in office, the president is scoring big time with political dunks over Republicans.

President Obama politically employs a winning game strategy. His plan includes all Americans, not just older white guys. Despite set-backs, Obama’s dream fortifies him. He gives Americans a chance to scale the economic ladder without pushing others to lower rungs. He directs federal justice programs to even the playing field. Then each citizen gains a fair chance to realize their economic dreams.

After debacles in the last two midterm elections, Obama’s plight resembles Christians at Pentecost, the Church’s birthday. The Apostle Peter bolstered them after a string of setbacks. Jesus had disappeared, with sketchy reports about his ascending into thin air. Leaders vied to fill the vacuum he left. Disciples felt unsure because of a cloudy future.

Visionary Peter inspired a Pentecost crowd to fight through setbacks. He encouraged them to make a run in life’s game. Peter challenged listeners to measure up to the Prophet Joel’s description of believers: “Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

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What’s the presidential dream? He works to level a playing field on which every citizens has equality of opportunity. He confronts those who protect gargantuan inequalities of wealth. President Obama rejects socialism in which the promise is equal income. He dismantles class divisions. Consequently, citizens have a chance at stretching their capacities and advancing economically.

The president has made several impressive runs since Republicans took over Congress in 2014. He takes to heart the 1920s political humorist Will Rogers’ advice: “You got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

President Obama marches ahead of politicians tied to fighting yesterday’s wars. He aligns with Abraham Lincoln, who said “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” We hear that, if we let capitalists invest with few government regulations, their record wealth trickles down to all. This promise has failed since Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. President Obama believes in Jefferson’s moral guide — that no generation should bind the next with shoddy economic principles.

Republicans feared a doomed Affordable Care Act, with cost spiraling out of control. They predicted employers would shift workers from full-time labor into part-time positions to save on health care costs. That hasn’t happened.

Conservatives seized on the botched rollout and decried the health care plan was jinxed. Obama kept driving to the hoop. Two months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services reported the Affordable Care Act had 16.4 million Americans enrolled. The rate for health care costs keeps decreasing.

The president scores over his opposition. His immigration reform has allowed parents of American citizens to stay with their children. He sent a medical army into Africa to fight Ebola, with few American casualties. Early on, the president’s stimulus package had mixed results, but it did save our economy from another Great Depression.

The president struck a bargain with Iran, lessening nuclear threats. He sounds like Billy Graham, who in later years tempered his equation of God’s will with the American way of life. As far back as 1971, Graham expressed to a Chicago press corps what another son of the Windy City says today. “We like to think that God is an American, but God is not an American,” declared Graham. “God is God of the whole human race, and He loves that person in the middle of the tribe in Latin America as much as He loves an American.” When President Obama voices similar convictions, detractors castigate his alleged lack of love for our country.

The president performs on the political court the way LeBron James smokes opposing basketball players. Accelerating at half-court, James drives down the middle, going airborne before he stuffs the ball through the nets. Republicans feel dunked on. Caught flat-footed, they reel backwards. “Are Republicans really going to spend the first year of their new majority trying to undo everything the president has done—to roll back the clock?” asks New York Times op-ed commentator Timothy Egan.

“Will they defend isolation of Cuba against the wishes of most young Cuban-Americans? Will they restore a family-destroying deportation policy, when Obama’s de-emphasis on sending illegal immigrants home has already given him a 15-point boost among Latinos? Will they take away health insurance from millions who never had it before? Will they insist that nothing can be done on climate change, while an agreement is on the table for the world’s two biggest polluters, the United States and China, to do something significant?” (“Obama Unbound,” December 19, 2014).

And the president just keeps dunking.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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