Friday, September 17, 2010

Birthers, Ignorance, and Right-Wing Mania

One of my favorite Kirk Douglas movies is Spartacus. I particularly love the scene when the Romans come to arrest Spartacus but don't really know which of the hundreds of slaves is Spartacus. The Roman general demands to know, "Which one of you is Spartacus?" Before Spartacus can step forward, one by one, each of his fellow slaves stands up and declares, "I am Spartacus."

Some of my Facebook friends posted a link to a Kenyan birth certificate generator. We can all be Kenyans which should make the birthers happy.They will be able to say with certainty that not only was the president born in Kenya but all of his supporters were also born in Kenya. I proudly post my Kenyan birth certificate below. I am Kenyan.

If you want your own, just click this link to generate your fake Kenyan birth certificate.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Listening to the Melody of Living

It was two years ago today that I received the phone call from my sister's husband, Bob. I don't recall his precise words, but I know that when I understood what he was telling me that my world stopped and all I could hear was silence. It seems so contrary, how can silence have a sound? But it does, it's as if all the air has been sucked out of a room and the silence echoes loudly and then you realize that people are trying to ask you what's wrong. You hear an unfamiliar voice and vaguely recognize it as your own and it's saying, "My mother died this morning."

On this second anniversary of the death of my mother, Evelyn, I went back and re-read a piece that I wrote three weeks after her death in 2008. I was struck by the following paragraph.
I confess that I've never known this kind of emotional loss and I don't feel like me. I go to work and I go through the motions of what I should do; I smile, I talk, I try to be "fine." When people ask how I am, I always say, "I'm doing okay. I'm fine." But I'm not. Everything seems so overwhelming. I come home and watch hours of mindless television. I rarely turn on my home computer; I tell myself that I'll catch up on things tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. All that I know to do is to keep moving forward one day at a time until I find my rhythm again. I realize that this loss is personal but it is also universal. I am not the first person to lose a mother and people do survive the loss; I just have to get back in sync with living again.
I still miss my mother. I miss her 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning call and her cheery inquiry, "Were you asleep?" I miss her stories about her older sister, my Aunt Nellie Ruth, who is always terribly concerned with two topics: Jesus and other people's sex lives. I miss her rearranging all the items in my pantry so that after she departed from a visit I couldn't find anything without calling her on the phone. Most of all I miss having her always in my corner, telling me that she loved me and that whatever was troubling me was going to be okay. However, in spite of the ache that I still have for her presence, somehow I've gotten back in sync with living again.

My sister, Rhonda, and her husband Bob live only a few blocks from me. I love their home; it's so warm and inviting. They are both very funny people and spending time with them always leaves me relaxed and happy. I feel so blessed to have them nearby. My brother, James, his wife, Lou and my adult nephew, JD live in Charlotte. We keep in contact via telephone and visit on holidays. My dad visits us and I call him every Thursday night for a marathon conversation about world affairs. Mama's youngest brother, my Uncle David calls me regularly just to chat, just as he used to do with my mother. I've renewed connections with some of my cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years. I think that we've all grown to appreciate the meaning of family more.

Then there's Little D, Bob and Rhonda's grandson. His father is Bob's son and Rhonda's stepson. Little D entered this world the December after my mother died; she never met him, but I know that she would have adored him.
This past Saturday evening, I was the babysitter. Little D and I had a marvelous time. We danced, sang songs (his favorite is Itsy Bitsy Spider), and identified all animals as "cow." I corrected him but he just grinned at me and pointed to the horse, dog, rooster, and duck and firmly announced, "cow." Fortunately, he does also call the cow a cow. For some reason, the cat is a cat and not a cow.

My favorite part of the evening was when he had worn himself out and decided to climb on my lap and rest his head on my shoulder. I read him a few nursery rhymes and then sang him a lullaby as he fell asleep.

Mama looking glamorous.

I've learned that time does have healing powers. There is still an ache in my heart and I have my moments when I miss mama so bad that I want to scream, but the ache is manageable and I no longer feel adrift. I find that I am more patient with others and with myself. I try to pay attention to the small joys of living. There is a rhythm to life; we just to have to take the time to listen to the melody.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Obama vs. the Status Quo

A blogger friend wrote a thoughtful blog post on the number of Americans who eagerly believe the flat out lies masquerading as news tossed about in the media and cyberspace about President Obama, his wife Michelle, and his administration. I think that he is correct about the people who orchestrate the lies and misinformation; they are not stupid and they act with well thought out deliberateness. The problem is that their target audience functions on a mix of fear and ignorance, a dangerous combination.

If their beliefs weren't so destructive, they would be laughable. Their litany goes something like this: Obama is a Muslim, who since birth has been laying the foundation to become president and destroy America and its Constitution that's why he faked his birth certificate. Michelle hates the United States and as a bonding exercise, the two of them burn the American flag. Presumably to diminish any opposition or just to strike terror in the hearts of Americans, the president supports using death panels to kill grandma.

Why would sane people fall for any of this? I have a theory and a lot of people won't like it. Ultimately I think it is because they perceive Obama as "other." It's not as simple as racism; most of these people would never think of themselves as racists and are genuinely appalled at exhibitions of racist beliefs. However, Obama makes them uncomfortable in ways that they can't quite fathom. It's not a new discomfort. They've always been uncomfortable with dealing with issues of race head-on. These are the people who believe that the most non-racist assertion that they can make is, "I don't see color. All people are alike."

They become defensive when there are those of us who tell them that being colorblind is not a desirable end. If you don't see my color, you don't really see me. All people are not alike; we are all of value but every group or subgroup has its shared cultural norms and beliefs that make the group unique. What I value most about my diverse group of friends is the diversity. Who wants a box of crayons of all one color?

Obama, who is both black and white, creates cognitive dissonance in many people. They can't admit that they are uncomfortable with his perceived race--black, so they are quick to adopt any other theories offered for their distrust of him. He lies; he's not really one of us; he's anti-American; any theory other than that an intelligent, articulate, well-educated black man scares the hell out them.

These people easily embrace black professional athletes, black performers, because they don't feel threatened by them. Black people who achieve in accepted categories are fine.

So how did Obama win? Because there was a massive get out the vote campaign. People who were desperate for change saw hope embodied in Obama. People went to the polls in record numbers, but it was a momentary fever of involvement; the thrill has long faded and the general apathy has returned in record numbers among those who were inspired to vote to put Obama in office. In addition, many of Obama's strongest supporters have succumbed to disillusionment. They read Obama's message as a promise to implement sweeping change with all deliberate speed. Unrealistic expectations engender disappointment. In spite of all that the Obama presidency has accomplished, there is more attention focused on complaining about what is yet to be done rather than being enthused about what has been done.

As the vocal support for the Obama administration has diminished, so has the criticism become louder. The more outrageous the allegations made against the president, the more that they are believed by those predisposed to fear what his election means to their way of life. Obama's election has rocked the fundamental beliefs of many Americans in the myth of Euro-ancestry superiority that has served them well since the beginnings of America. The country that they want back is the one that existed before the election of Barack Obama as president capsized their boat. What they fear most is the very thing that Obama made the cornerstone of his campaign--change. When the status quo serves your interests in maintaining your perceived superiority, the last thing that you want is someone suggesting that the times will be a-changin'.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sarah Palin: No Laughing Matter

Of the Obama administration, she says, “They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies. And I so want to tell ’em, and I do tell ’em, Oh, we’re plenty smart, oh yeah—we know what’s goin’ on. And we don’t like what’s goin’ on. And we’re not gonna let them tell us to sit down and shut up.” The crowd’s ample applause at these lines swells to something vastly bigger when Palin vows defiantly that “come November, we’re taking our country back!”
The above lines are from an article by author Michael Joseph Gross for Vanity Fair. Gross followed Sarah Palin "...through through four midwestern states, speaking with whomever I could induce to talk under whatever conditions of anonymity they imposed—political strategists, longtime Palin friends and political associates, hotel staff, shopkeepers and hairstylists, and high-school friends of the Palin children. There’s a long and detailed version of what they had to say, but there’s also a short and simple one: anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath."

I just read Gross' article. It's long, but well worth taking the time to read.

A lot of us, myself included, have been guilty of dismissing Sarah Palin. We laugh at her gaffes, marvel at the way that she mangles the English language, and deride her for her lack of knowledge on most topics of substance. But here's the deal, Sarah Palin is a very dangerous woman and if we are to neutralize her, the first thing that we have to do is take her seriously.

While we're making fun of Palin, she's methodically increasing her base, travelling through middle America, trash talking the Obama administration, and regularly invoking the name of Jesus. Her base doesn't think that she's stupid; they think that she's one of them, and when you insult her, you insult them.

I'm guilty of it, as are most progressives. The provincial and narrow view of the world expressed by Palin's followers offends me and I express my distaste by asserting that they are devoid of intellectual curiosity, which is just another way for stating that they're stupid. Once you tell people that they're dumb, they just aren't interested in hearing anything else that you have to say.

However, Palin has successfully tapped into the psyche of a lot of Americans, people who identify with her because they buy her assertions that she is one of them. She makes them feel that their view of the world is valid, that their prejudices and narrow belief systems are superior to those of the heathen liberals. Early on she recognized that Obama represents everything that they fear and dislike. When he speaks, they don't always easily follow what he is talking about so they presume that he's speaking some anti-American, anti-Christian code. Palin feeds their fire; she's their leader.

Perhaps Palin's most clever move is the focus on generating the tent revival atmosphere demonstrated at Beck's Restoring Honor rally. Palin has two texts that she regularly cites at her appearances, the Constitution of the United States and the Christian Bible, sometimes interchangeably. Her audiences eat the mishmash of secular law and religious belief as if it were the mythical manna from heaven, secure in their desire to get their country back and the belief that God wants them to have it. 

I don't believe Christianity is inherently evil but I do believe that humankind  has repeatedly demonstrated our ability to twist the precepts of any belief system to justify the worst aspects of our nature. Misdirected religious fervor soon swells into fanaticism, and history is littered with the horrors perpetrated in the name of religious fanaticism. These people believe that they're on a mission from God and that Palin is their angel of light guiding them to salvation, not just for themselves, but for the entire country. If they have to trample on the Constitution, run undocumented immigrants out of the country by any means necessary, and kill off the liberals in order to enact their vision and get their country back, then so be it.

The saving grace of this country has been that most people who consider themselves to be Christians have never been overly involved in organized proselytizing. There have always been exceptions, but not any significant numbers involved in forcing the word of God on all, just a few souls wandering through neighborhoods and knocking on doors on occasion. However, the Palin/Beck base are a different and dangerous breed, and they have found their prophets in Palin and her acolyte, Glenn Beck.

They are fueled by their fear and discontent; Palin and Beck provide them with answers that fit their view that they have been wronged and that their entire way of life is danger of being destroyed. Every time they hear someone speaking Spanish they fear that the conversation is about them.  They deeply resent being unable to understand the conversation, after all, this is their country. So they angrily question, "Why can't these people learn English?" They also provide the answer, "They don't want to learn English!"

The black man in the oval office further confuses and upsets them. He must be up to something nefarious; he can't really be working for the good of all Americans. At the core of the obsession with so-called reverse racism is a subconscious belief that black people must have some desire for retribution. That belief fuels the vitriolic dislike expressed for President Obama and the obsessive beliefs that he is on the side of the terrorists, has plans to destroy the United States, and plans to chuck the Constitution and replace it with a socialist manifesto.

I vehemently disliked most of the policies of the George W. Bush's administration but I can't recall there ever being any assessment by progressives that GWB was intentionally and with malice aforethought attempting to destroy the country. Certainly, there have been accusations that certain actions on the part of past presidents would result in the destruction of the foundational beliefs of this country but never the assertion that the president in question ran for office for the express purpose of destroying America.

At the top of the progressive agenda must be plans to reframe our message to re-engage liberals and progressives prior to the November 2010 elections and to begin to lay the foundation for the 2012 elections. I'm not confident that there is any framing that will sway those who are enraptured of Palin and Beck, and I fear that the Palin/Beck base will continue to grow.

There is a great deal of apathy among progressives and liberals; declarations that Obama has betrayed us abound. Like a petulant child who didn't get everything on his or her Christmas list, far too many of us focus on what remains undone and look past all that has been accomplished. We threaten not to vote in order to teach the Democrats not to take us for granted.

It's time that we start taking Sarah Palin seriously; her base certainly does. If we don't, there may lessons learned in November 2010 and 2012 but we may the ones who are schooled.